This Sunday at 1:00pm, Vanderbilt will battle Tennessee in the fourth installment of the Commodores’ Interstate Face-Off Series. This year’s edition will be the third “I-40 Face-Off” and the first since 2012. Vanderbilt won the first two I-40 tilts 6-2 (2011) and 10-1 (2012).
At stake in the game will be not only state bragging rights but also the opportunity to hoist the Culpepper Jefferson Memorial Trophy. Dubbed the “Cullie” for short, the trophy is a hand-crafted artifact named after a simple man near forgotten in the lore of Davidson County’s illustrious history. His life story, and motto, hold special meaning to the matchup between the Commodores and Ice Vols.
Background on the Trophy’s Namesake
Culpepper Jefferson was a wiley old kook who, in the 1870s, launched Davidson County’s very first whiskey distillery. His professional pursuits, born out of an unhealthy obsession with replicating the successes of one Jack Daniel from nearby Lynchburg, Tennessee, were as haphazard as they were ambitious. His goal? Create the state’s most revered whiskey beverage.
Desperate for success and, more importantly, differentiation from the Old Number 7 bottle, he and his wife Annabelle employed two new-to-market innovations that to this day still resonate with master distillers and brewers the world over. The first was to use red cedar charcoal native to Tennessee in the whiskey-making process. Jefferson was adamant on the decision, saying that “Ole C.J.” Whiskey’s signature cedar flavor would forever eclipse Daniel’s sugar maple. “That sugar ain’t nothing but fer sissies,” he would bark at local watering holes to anyone who would listen.
The second was to freeze the charcoal before slow-filtering the water through it. Made possible by refrigeration technologies introduced in the 1860s, the thought was that the cold filtration process would unlock the flavor of the cedar. Ole C.J.’s vintage hue, a dark reddish umber, was said to be attributed specifically to this process. “Iced is better” became the whiskey’s brand slogan.
Unfortunately for Jefferson, in his haste to differentiate he forgot one important concern about the beverage: its taste. Ole C.J. quickly became the laughing stock of the state as one newspaper called it “the most ungodly, detestable, putrid swill you will find on either side of the Mississippi.” It turned out that the cedar he was using, while terrific for building homes and furniture, was terrible for whiskey-making (a lesson that, as mentioned, still resonates with distillers and brewers to this day). Jefferson would have realized this had he not unknowingly inhibited his senses of taste and smell following a dispute over the result of a card game in his early 20s.
With inventory shelves stacked ten feet high and a mile long and no hope of selling his Ole C.J. product, Jefferson set out to divest his assets to salvage some semblance of a profit. It was at this dark moment that good fortune smiled down on the would-be liquor tycoon. A German immigrant by the name of Adolph Coors came calling, interested in purchasing Jefferson’s cold filtration patents and technologies. Despite his weak negotiating position, Jefferson secured a favorable deal and sold his intellectual property to Coors. Annabelle called the result “dadgum-rific!” Today, Coors not only employs elements of this hundred-plus year old technology in its beer-making processes, but it also carries over elements of the C.J. identity in its marketing (i.e., Coors is said to be “The Coldest Tasting Beer In The World”). All these years later, the world still realizes that “iced” truly is better.
The Trophy’s Construction
To construct the I-40 Trophy, a host of local historians were enlisted to first propose an award concept worthy of the event. Upon researching the history of the greater Nashville area and uncovering the story of Jefferson, the team felt strongly that incorporating an homage to the Davidson county native’s life and accomplishments would fit nicely with this soon-to-be annual hockey clash. Said seventh-generation middle Tennessee historian Mortimer Penniweather, “Jefferson couldn’t hammer home the ‘Iced is Better’ slogan enough, something I know the Vandy and UT hockey clubs would agree with whole-heartedly.” He added, “Jefferson was an innovator, even in failure, and in this case where the Commodores and Ice Vols are working to drive interest in and support for a sport whose roots don’t exactly run deep in the South, the parallels between the efforts are clear.”
With concept in hand, a team of engineers from Princeton led by renowned craftsman Josh Girvin salvaged cedar planks from the demolition of the Jefferson’s 125-year-old estate and crafted the trophy that you see pictured above. Incredibly, the Interstate-40 highway sign was discovered in the family’s barn, no doubt requisitioned via the handiwork of mischievous prankster Winston Jefferson, Culpepper’s twice-great grandson. Said Girvin upon making the discovery, “I guess this connection between Culpepper and the I-40 Face-Off was meant to be.”
The Big Game Approaches
Game time is 1pm this Sunday, 3/30, at Bridgestone Arena with doors opening to the public at 12:30pm. Admission is free for all who wish to attend so feel free to bring a crew of fans with you (preferably those wearing black and gold!). ANCHOR DOWN!