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The Shining Movie, Bourbon and Jack Daniels

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

We received the following email:

"We were just watching The ShiningThat ghostly bourbon bar scene. Thoughts??"

First things first. For this article, our pour is Jack Daniel's No. 7, for obvious reasons as you will see

Here is the moment from the movie, where the character Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, orders a bourbon. See if you spot the moment:

Briefly about the film

In the movie, based on the Stephen King novel, Jack is a writer who brings his family --  his wife (Shelly Duvall) and young son -- to be caretaker of the historic Overlook Hotel, during the snowbound off season, isolated in the Colorado Rockies.

In the job interview, the hotel manager tells Jack that a previous caregiver killed his family and himself.

"My predecessor in this job left a man named Charles Grady as the Winter caretaker. And he came up here with his wife and two little girls, I think were eight and ten. And he had a good employment record, good references, and from what I've been told he seemed like a completely normal individual. But at some point during the winter, he must have suffered some kind of a complete mental breakdown. He ran a muck and killed his family with an axe. Stacked them neatly in one of the rooms in the west wing and then he, he put both barrels of a shot gun in his mouth."

But Jack doesn't seem to care, telling the manager he just is looking for some peace and quiet; some isolation to hopefully cure his writer's block.

The Shining Movie, Bourbon and Jack Daniels

(Jack's typewriter in The Shining where he types out over and over "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Wikipedia Creative Commons, author China Crisis.)

If you've seen the film, you know Jack descends into insanity as the spirits of the hotel begin to convince Jack that he must "correct" his wife and child.

Turns out, Jack had once hurt his son Danny in a violent outburst, which had been attributed to his excessive drinking, and this sets up the bar scene.

The bar scene

As Jack starts to lose his mind, falling under the spell of the ghosts of the hotel's horrific past, he wanders into the majestic Gold Room, over to the bar. Manning the bar of the empty room of the empty, isolated hotel, is Lloyd, the bartender -- immaculately dressed, professional, cold, probably dead. The devil? 

Lloyd: What will you be drinking, sir?

Jack Torrance: Hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd.

Lloyd: Bourbon on the rocks.

Jack Torrance: That'll do her!

The moment

And then we come to the moment. Lloyd brings out a bottle of Jack Daniels and fills a glass.

"I like you, Lloyd. I always liked you. You were always the best of them. Best goddamned bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine. Or Portland, Oregon, for that matter," Jack says. They met before, an earlier life?

The moment is... when Jack asks for a bourbon -- "Hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd." -- Lloyd brings out Jack Daniels.

Jack Daniels -- To be or not to be a bourbon

Jack Daniels is not a bourbon, or at least they say they are not -- even though t technically, according to much of the consensus, they can say they are. This is, for better or for worse, a debate in the bourbon community.

Is Jack Daniels a bourbon or not?

For the record, the distillery steadfastly insists it is not a bourbon. From their website

"IS JACK DANIEL'S A BOURBON? Jack Daniel's is not a bourbon - it's a Tennessee Whiskey. Jack Daniel's is dripped slowly - drop-by-drop - through ten feet of firmly packed charcoal (made from hard sugar maple) before going into new charred oak barrels for maturing."

Also known as the "Lincoln County Process."

As some have said, this is JD sticking to its Tennessee roots, not giving Kentucky, where most bourbon comes from, the time of day.

 Is Jack Daniel's a bourbon?

(The famous Jack Daniels No. 7 Black Label that the mysterious bartender in The Shining serves Jack as a "bourbon.)

An argument can be made the charcoal process does not disqualify Daniels from being named a bourbon. From our blog on the topic:

Here are the rules that make it bourbon.

  • Must be made in the USA. In 1964, Congress mandated that bourbon had to be made in America to be called bourbon. It doesn't have to be in Kentucky, but it has to be in the US.
  • Has to be aged in new charred white oak barrels. This is what gives the juice its caramel, vanilla notes, and other flavors.
  • At least 51% corn
  • Not higher than 160 proof. The higher the proof, the more the flavors are removed. Think of vodka at 190; no flavor.
  • 125 proof into the barrel
  • 80 proof or higher into a glass bottle
  • Genuine, no additives or flavors.

It is maybe that last one that is the stickler.

So what does this mean in the movie

The bottom-line is that the director of the The Shining, Stanley Kubrick, was meticulous, as they say. The "goofs" may just be intentional, suggesting some meaning. For example, a chair in the background that suddenly isn't there anymore. Goof or not? Kubrick died in 1999 so the truth (or his intention) is unknown, or rather is now forever speculation, myth.

 Among the theories: As Jack descends into his madness, he doesn't see the trickery that the spirits (pun intended) are playing on him. They are lying and deceiving him in front of his face. Another theory: Jack is the bottle; that he is being served who he really is, metaphorically speaking. Others note that Jack's son is named Danny -- so Daniels, whatever that could mean.

Or... was it really just a goof in the movie? While Kubrick was known for being meticulous, the IMDB does list goofs that are likely goofs. (And yes, the bourbon is included.)

Truth be told, unless you are a bourbon connoisseur or enthusiast, you very likely do not know the distinction, and the saying "all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey (and whisky) is bourbon." In researching this blog post, we came across many who did not know the distinctions. This can of course include filmmakers : )

A word about the bar

The movie was made in 1980. Bourbon whiskey was just emerging from being out a favor. It was a time when vodka was "in." At Pappy Van Winkle, they could barely give their liquid gold away. You could get a bottle Weller 12 for a song.

But you'd would think a grand hotel like the Overlock Hotel would have a bar stocked with a few good bourbons, even at the time.

"What would you like, something traditional and easy on the wallet, like Evan Williams? A high-rye? Four Roses? High-wheat? We have Maker's Mark, of course. And in the back room, I have a bottle of Pappy."

Maybe the mystery of The Shining's bourbon will be answered; perhaps a member of the crew will definitively tell the story. In the meantime, the mystery may be more fun. Cheers!

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