Jacqueline “Jacky” Wells, bourbon distiller and owner of the Brown Paper Saloon, the longest continuously operating tavern in the state, died Wednesday at Kilmersdon, the family farm where she had lived all her life. She was 94.
Jacky and her twin brother, Gilbert, were only 18 when their father died, leaving them to run the Wells Brothers bourbon distillery. They took to the work but less than two years later prohibition became law and the business closed. The Wells twins set up illegal moonshine stills and soon they were known not only for how deep into the wilderness they were willing to go to set up their stills but for the quality of their moonshine, which was said to be significantly better than anything else in the region. Jacky always said their bourbon was better because of the water.
While Gilbert oversaw production, Jacky opened the Brown Paper Saloon, the town’s first speakeasy. The Brown Paper, named for a tacit understanding with local police that there wouldn’t be any trouble as long as they didn’t see any bottles, was very successful and the money helped restart the Wells Brothers bourbon distillery after prohibition. Regrettably, while searching for a still location with good water, Gilbert Wells slipped over the edge of a small but steep cliff, suffered a severe head injury and died. His death devastated Jacky. She suffered a complete mental breakdown and was hospitalized for several months. She recovered and grew both the distillery and saloon into very successful businesses and Wells Brothers Bourbon now famously comes wrapped in brown paper.
Jacqueline Wells is survived by her sons, Charles (59), William (57), their wives, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her husband, coincidentally named Gilbert, died in 1985 at age 86.