New Jack in town

New Jack in town

Dominic Roskrow fires 20 of the best latest in the line of Jack Daniel's master distiller's, Jeff Arnett

People | 22 Jul 2008 | Issue 73 | By Dominic Roskrow

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DOMINIC When did you hear that you had got the job and was it expected?JEFF It was first discussed with me about two years ago, but the job offer wasn’t made until Jimmy Bedford announced his intention to retire at the end of March of this year.When I came to work for Jack Daniel’s, I never dreamed I would ever become the next master distiller. So, I was certainly surprised when I was approached about the position.DOMINIC What did it mean to you?JEFF It was a huge honour to even be considered for the master distiller job at the Jack Daniel Distillery, but to be selected as the next master distiller at Jack Daniel’s was an indescribable feeling.DOMINIC What’s your background and what career route brought you to this position?JEFF I went to college and received a bachelor of science degree in engineering, and then I spent 10 years working in the food and beverage industry before joining Jack Daniel’s. My first job at the Jack Daniel Distillery was as quality control manager which included quality checks from the incoming cave water and grains (corn, barley malt, rye) and also included oversight of the shipping process of all of the bottles of Jack Daniel’s. It was the perfect job by which to learn the entire whiskey production process and taught me how to manage the consistency in quality expected from our loyal friends around the world.DOMINIC Is this a typical route for previous distillers at Jack or has each one appointment been different?JEFF Each appointment has been somewhat different. The first four master distillers were Jack Daniel and his Motlow family relatives.Frank Bobo was our fifth master distiller and the first master distiller who was not related to Jack Daniel or the Motlow family.Jimmy Bedford was the sixth master distiller and worked under Frank Bobo for 20 years before becoming the master distiller. I worked directly under Jimmy for seven years, and during that time I gained a knowledge of the entire distillery operation.DOMINIC Are you from Lynchburg/Tennessee?JEFF Not originally, but I got here as soon as I could (laughing). I now live about two miles downstream from the distillery on the Mulberry Creek which runs through distillery grounds. My home is located about half of a mile from Jack Daniel’s old farm and where his house once stood.DOMINIC When did you become aware of Jack Daniel’s and how important is the distillery in the community?JEFF As a native Tennessean, I always knew about Jack Daniel’s and the distillery, but I became a Tennessee Squire more than a decade ago prior to working at the distillery and that solidified my connection to the Jack Daniel’s brand. I was a fan of the brand who was fortunate enough to get the chance to work in Lynchburg, and I remain a huge fan of this brand today.I would also say that you cannot separate the Jack Daniel Distillery from the town of Lynchburg.They are interwoven and the people of the town definitely help “flavour”the whiskey.The town of Lynchburg is such a big part of our brand’s history and heritage that you simply couldn’t imagine one without the other.DOMINIC Had it been a long time wish to become a distiller in general and/or the distiller at JD in particular?JEFF I never thought the opportunity would present itself to become the next master distiller, but I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had at the Jack Daniel Distillery. I have a passion for making whiskey and doing it the best I can everyday. In that regard, I would say I’m a kindred spirit to Mr. Jack himself.DOMINIC The famous brand is Jack Daniel’s Number 7 and you’re the seventh distiller since Mr. Jack himself.There is also a lot of symbolism/mystique around the number seven.Are you conscious of all of this?JEFF Yes, very much so. In addition, I also became the master distiller after working under Jimmy Bedford for seven years, and I’m seven years younger than Jimmy was when he became master distiller. I think you probably have a pretty good idea as to what is my new lucky number.DOMINIC What are your emotions now? Excitement, nervousness, fear even?JEFF At first, it was a combination of excitement and apprehension, but the apprehension is beginning to subside a bit. As I have travelled on behalf of the brand recently and met with friends of Jack Daniel’s outside of Lynchburg, I quickly realised that anyone who is associated with Jack Daniel’s is sure to find friends wherever they go.DOMINIC What does the job entail?Will it mainly be ambassadorial or will you spend a fair proportion of time in the distillery?JEFF My current job responsibilities won’t change dramatically since quality control oversees the entire production process and insures that every drop of whiskey meets the Jack Daniel’s standard. I will do some travelling on behalf of the brand, but the vast majority of time will be spent here making Tennessee whiskey. At Jack Daniel’s, we’re fortunate to have other brand ambassadors from the distillery who travel as well. I think people will enjoy meeting the different people who work here and play key roles in making our Tennessee whiskey.DOMINIC Have you travelled much in the past, or seen much of the world,and does this aspect of the position appeal to you?JEFF I have travelled a good deal but mostly in North America. I did have the opportunity to travel to Japan last year, but that is the only international travel I have done for the distillery. I do find the travel aspect of the position to be appealing, and I look forward to being able to meet friends of Jack Daniel’s in other countries around the globe in the future.DOMINIC What does the post mean for you personally in terms of lifestyle and so on?Does it come with a burden of responsibility and the need to present yourself well in the public spotlight?JEFF Since the day I began to work here I have always considered myself to be a representative of Jack Daniel’s, and I’ve always assumed a personal responsibility to act professionally and courteously to everyone I meet. The only change in lifestyle so far has been that I am now paying to have my lawn mowed (laughing), and I find that my evening hours are occupied more than they used to be.DOMINIC In Germany head brewers become important figures in the community. Is it the same with your position?JEFF I guess there is an aspect of celebrity that goes with the role of Jack Daniel’s master distiller, but I feel that I am still relatively new and unknown. Jimmy Bedford, on the other hand, is like a rock star everywhere he goes. People know Jimmy, and they love him, as they should. Jimmy is a true Southern gentleman and was a wonderful mentor and role model for me.DOMINIC Jack enjoys a loyalty across the world that no other spirit can match.Why do you think that,and does it amaze you just how big a brand it has now become?JEFF I have seen massive growth in the brand during the last seven years, but I’m not surprised by it. Prior to working for the distillery, I tried several other whiskeys and bourbons, and I understand why people are drawn to and are loyal to Jack Daniel’s. It all starts with quality. I think we have a unique and very consistent whiskey that can be enjoyed in numerous ways. I often tell people that the only wrong way to drink Jack Daniel’s is irresponsibly.DOMINIC Jack is clearly a huge success and with emerging markets such as the Far East and China it seems that the future for whiskey is bright. Is this your view?JEFFWe have seen the most growth for Jack Daniel’s in developing markets, and Jack Daniel’s is quickly becoming just as popular abroad as it is in the United States. Within the next few years, I believe we will export more whiskey than we sell domestically, so we are all excited at the prospects of introducing Jack Daniel’s to new markets and hope to eventually be present in every country on the globe.DOMINIC Increasingly the trend seems to be towards drinking less but better.Do you think this presents an interesting challenge for spirits such as Jack,and does it present a strong opportunity for products such as Single Barrel?JEFF Spirits in general have enjoyed a host of new consumers who have “graduated” from malt beverages, so I definitely think that Jack Daniel’s is benefiting from this trend of consuming less but more premium.As Old No.7 is a premium brand of Tennessee whiskey, we also offer two other options within our family of brands - Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. Each of these is unique in its predominant flavour characteristics, and also offer new ways to enjoy Jack Daniel’s.(Please note: Gentleman Jack is not sold in the United Kingdom, except in Duty Free) DOMINIC What are your main aims and objectives while you’re in the post?JEFF As master distiller, I feel my main role is to be a steward over the Jack Daniel Whiskey making process. We simply do not know of any improvements we can make in our process and truly believe that Mr. Jack perfected the process of making Tennessee whiskey more than 140 years ago. My main objective is to ensure that we continue that process and that every day we make it, we make it the best we can.DOMINIC What’s your overall view of the future with regard to whiskey in America,and for Jack in particular?JEFF Jack Daniel’s has been fortunate to maintain its growth through a number of different economic climates in the United States. I believe that trend can and will continue. I believe that we have the best whiskey on the market, and our growth will continue to depend on educating consumers and getting them to try Jack Daniel’s the first time. One sip and we think they’ll be convinced.
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