This feature appeared in the recent March issue of Australian Bartender
Interview by Edward Washington
Q+A: How important is access to your cave spring water supply?
The Cave Spring is undoubtedly a vital piece of the Jack Daniel’s puzzle as it provides flavour and natural minerals that feed the yeast during the fermentation process. We are fortunate that the water supply has been so abundant and never failed us in over 145 years.
Jeff Arnett is the latest in an esteemed line-up of whiskey men to hold the position of master distiller at the iconic Jack Daniel’s distillery. While he spends most of his time in Lynchburg, USA looking after the world famous Tennessee whiskey, Australian Bartender magazine was fortunate enough to grab the exclusive interview with him in preparation for his first trip to Australia.
Hi Jeff, how does it feel to hold the position of master distiller at Jack Daniel’s?
Following in Mr. Jack’s footsteps is humbling, especially since his whiskey brand is now the number one selling whiskey in the world. I also don’t think you can become the seventh master distiller for Old No. 7 after working at the distillery for only seven years without feeling extremely lucky.
Can you tell me a little about you’re your job?
I spend 80% of my time in Lynchburg where I oversee all aspects of producing Jack Daniel’s whiskey. I spend up to 20% of my time travelling to meet and educate our friends on the reasons no other whiskey tastes like Jack.
What sort of perspective does travelling the world give you as a master distiller?
It serves as a great reminder that what we are doing in our little town of Lynchburg, TN matters to our many fans around the globe. It is also reassuring that people still recognize a quality product when they see and taste it regardless of where they live.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Everyday has its rewards whether it is visiting a country for the first time to meet with local Jack lovers, or simply spending the day working alongside my friends and co-workers at the distillery. My worst day at Jack Daniel’s was still a good day, and there aren’t many places you can say that about.
Tell me a little about the Jack Daniel’s whiskey range – what’s your favourite?
Jack Daniel’s is best known for Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey, a medium bodied and very balanced whiskey. We also offer a double charcoal mellowed whiskey called Gentleman Jack which has our softest oak finish. Single Barrel is our most aromatic and flavourful whiskey and tends to be my favourite.
How is the future of Jack Daniel’s looking around the world?
We are optimistic that the future of Jack Daniel’s is very bright. Although we have been around for 145 years in the United States, we are just beginning to scratch the surface in many countries abroad.
What are some achievements you’re particularly proud of?
I’m proud of every employee at the distillery and the dedication they have to making the best whiskey we know how to make. Through their support, I feel I have been able to live up to Jack’s expectations that: “Everyday we make it, we’ll make it the best we can”.
Jack Daniel’s is in bourbon country, but you’re not a bourbon – what is it that you’re doing differently?
Every drop of Jack Daniel’s must pass through ten feet of hard sugar maple charcoal after distillation and before entering the barrel for maturation. This additional step defines how a Tennessee whiskey differs from boubons and provides a two year head start on softening and sweetening the whiskey.
You’re also in a dry county! How does that effect the operations?
Our county’s dry status prohibits the sale of liquor by the drink, so there is no public establishment in Lynchburg where you order a glass of Jack Daniel’s. We are allowed to taste check the whiskey for quality, but our tasters have to spit the samples out to maintain their palate. They don’t like that – ha! We can also provide educational tastings for visitors as long as there is no fee charged.
Aside from the cave spring water source, what ingredients make Jack Daniel’s unique?
Beyond the Cave Spring water, Jack Daniel’s has a unique grain bill, the charcoal mellowing process, and a toasted and charred new white oak barrel that we have produced for ourselves that will ultimately result in a whiskey like no other.
Any good in-house theories on the name Old No. 7 Brand?
Whether it was Jack’s lucky number, or the seventh recipe he tried, or a reference to how many girlfriends he was willing to court at one time; the truth is that the only person who ever knew why he called the whiskey Old No. 7 was Mr. Jack himself. It was a secret he took to his grave.
Are there any little known stories from Jack Daniel’s history that you like to share?
Although we owe Jack a great debt of gratitude for starting the distillery, I give almost equal credit to his nephew Lem Motlow for the brand still being in existence today. He was the one who persevered through Prohibition and found a way to get the distillery back into production afterward.
How do you enjoy your whiskey?
I typically like a simple glass of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel on the rocks, but based on the occasion, I also enjoy some cocktail making. Some easy ones are Jack and Ginger and the Lynchburg Lemonade – if I have some Chambord around, I might also make a Velvet Elvis.
Jack Daniel’s Interesting Facts
We have over 1.8 million barrels stored in 79 warehouses that are all located in Lynchburg and you’ll find Jack Daniel’s in more than 135 countries.