Master Distiller Jeff Arnett on the intricacies of crafting whiskey

In 2008, Jeff Arnett took on the mantle and is only the seventh distiller in the 150 years of Jack Daniel’s existence. In the Capital recently for a masterclass, he let us in on a regular day at the distillery and the demands of his much-coveted job. Excerpts from the interview:

Written by Damini Ralleigh | Updated: March 26, 2018 9:56:54 am
Jeff Arnett Jeff Arnett

Recent “speculations” about the history of the whiskey brand, Jack Daniel’s, suggest that Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel, in fact, learned how to craft screech from Nearest Green, a former slave in late 19th century America. While Green’s legacy may not have endured in public memory, one doesn’t have to look beyond the company’s website to get the true story. Daniel, a runaway from home, was taken in by Reverand Dan Call and at his farm, he picked up the intricacies of whiskey-making from Green. Soon after establishing the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, he hired Green as its Master Distiller. That was 1864. In 2008, Jeff Arnett took on the mantle and is only the seventh distiller in the 150 years of Jack Daniel’s existence. In the Capital recently for a masterclass, he let us in on a regular day at the distillery and the demands of his much-coveted job. Excerpts:

How and when did you get interested in whiskey?

Well, to start with I’m a Tennessee native. I grew up about two hours west of Lynchburg, where Jack Daniel’s is produced. I was introduced to whiskey in my college days by my then roommate, when I was pursuing a degree in industrial engineering and immediately became a fan. I also became a member of the Tennessee Squire Association, an invitation-only fan club that was formed in the 1950s and consists of the most loyal consumers of Jack Daniel’s around the world.

Your first job at the distillery was in quality control. Tell us about your journey from there to the much-coveted position of JD’s Master Distiller.

As Quality Control Manager, I worked for seven years under the previous Master Distiller, Jimmy Bedford, who retired in 2008 and I was one of the few people who saw the entire process from start to finish — I would check the cave spring water, the incoming grains and so on. I learned everything that had to go right, the things that could go wrong, what we were going to test and check.

What is a regular day at the distillery?

One thing I love about my job is the diversity. Every day is different. I check production reports and plan my day around them. I meet new people who have come to Lynchburg and share with them the fascinating stories about Jack Daniel’s — the man and the brand. One of the jobs that I particularly enjoy is to help customers pick barrels.

What are the nuances that a distiller is trained to catch?

You will never read a book that turns you into an expert whiskey maker. A distiller’s job involves tasting the product every single day; so he needs to be disciplined. One has to be careful about the product that passes through the distillery. We still follow the exact same process that Mr Jack himself did to make his whiskey.

What made you go down the flavoured whiskey route?

Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire are the two flavoured versions, the former mingled with a proprietary honey liqueur and latter with true cinnamon. These whiskies bring together two complementary tastes in a new way and leverage the growing cocktail culture across the globe. Flavours not only give our current fans more choice and increase the occasions to drink our products but also help us attract new consumers.

What do you reckon are some of the global trends in whiskey consumption?

American whiskeys are seeing a renaissance globally, including in India. People are increasingly getting fascinated by mixology, which puts us in a great position because you can make great cocktails with American whiskey.

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