Celebrating Thanksgiving – 10 Questions with Jeff Arnett, Master Distiller, Jack Daniel’s
1.Why is your brand so special? Give us your best cocktail party pitch.
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that makes Jack Daniel’s so special, but I think it is the natural outcome of its many unique parts. Jack Daniel’s is a storied and well-awarded whiskey that can be found in any bar in the world, but it is only made in one place in the world, and that place is Lynchburg, Tennessee. Starting with great water, great grains, and great barrels and having great people who craft these items together into a great whiskey that they take such great pride in every day results in something really special. I sometimes have to pinch myself as a reminder of how special Jack Daniel’s really is, and that I get to be a part of this chapter in the brand’s history is truly an honour.
2. How did you get to where you are now?
I graduated from college with an engineering degree hoping to work in the automotive field. When I couldn’t find work in that industry, I began working in a coffee plant where I was taught the sensory sciences and how to class and grade beans based on their flavour, acidity, body, etc. I continued working for that company at three different manufacturing plants over a ten-year period. I began working for Jack Daniel’s back in 2001 and was first appointed the quality control manager of the distillery. I worked under the previous master distiller in this capacity for seven years and was then promoted to be his replacement when he retired in 2008.
3. What has been your greatest learning in this job?
I tend to be a type A personality and I want to do things very quickly and efficiently. I’d have to say that making whiskey has taught me many things, but possibly the most important thing is patience. Great whiskies cannot be rushed and they usually generate a great reward if you are patient.
4. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received along the way?
The best piece of advice I got when I first became master distiller was to just be myself. I think this is good advice no matter who you are or what you do in life. I love the Jack Daniel’s brand largely because we don’t pretend to be someone that we’re not. We operate and communicate with transparency and this is a characteristic that is sadly too rare in our industry today.
5. What has been the most edifying moment of your working life to date?
One of the biggest honours I’ve received to date was being named Master Distiller of the Year in 2017. It was the first time a distiller from Tennessee had ever won the award and I felt like it was great recognition, not just for me, but for the men and women who are my friends and co-workers at the distillery. It is this hard-working group of people who make Jack Daniel’s the great brand that it is.
6. If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing with your life?
The only other career I could see myself having would be somewhere in the automotive field. This was my original career plan, and although I never worked in this field, it has remained a hobby of mine. I’ve owned many different cars over the years and love to buy one, fix it up, and then sell it to someone who will appreciate as much as I did.
7. Name your ultimate Thanksgiving dinner party guests and what would you serve them to eat and to drink?
I keep a very tight circle of close friends. I’ve always counted my friends based on their quality and not the quantity. My ultimate Thanksgiving dinner would include only my family and closest friends. It would be a small gathering; intimate and comfortable for everyone. The ideal meal would be a buffet of items ranging from healthy to the indulgent, and the drinks would be every style of Jack Daniel’s we make today.
8. If a film was made of your life, who would play you and why?
I’m going to say, Brad Pitt, because, you know, why not? Haha. Actually, the person who would probably best play me would be an unknown actor who gained fame by playing the role. I feel that’s been my life story. I was never someone who sought the microphone or stage, but being Master Distiller of Jack Daniel’s has put me into the public eye whether I enjoyed it or not. I admit it can be an uncomfortable place to be at times, but my passion for Jack Daniel’s always calms my nerves and helps me do things I never envisioned myself doing.
9. What would you order as your desert island drink?
Assuming that the desert island would be tropical and warm, I’d probably be wishing for a Gentleman Jack and Ginger Ale. Those would always be light and refreshing on a hot day.
10. What is your one guilty pleasure, or are there more than one?
I’d say that there are two main things that I personally enjoy; automobiles and whiskey. The trick is that I can never enjoy those two things at the same time, so if I’m doing one, I’m not doing the other.