150 – Is Jack Daniel’s a Bourbon? The Truth with Jeff Arnett, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s Distillery

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon? It’s a question that has been asked thousands of times over and there never really seems to be a good answer. It’s about time you hear it from the man himself, the one who helps make every drop of that charcoal mellowed goodness, Jeff Arnett, the Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s Distillery. We talk about the Lincoln County Process and if that changes the terminology from “Bourbon” to “Tennessee Whiskey” or if it can even be replicated in other parts of the country. If you’ve ever snuffed your nose at Jack thinking it’s not bourbon, perhaps you should listen to this episode and you might end up buying a bottle at the end.

Show Notes:

  • Talk about your background
  • Did Pringles really start because they couldn’t get rid of the tennis ball cans?
  • When did you start there?
  • We are pretty unfamiliar with Jack Daniel’s history. Was there an actual man named Jack Daniels?
  • Jack Daniels like to categorize itself as a Tennessee Whiskey and not a bourbon so we are going to look at all the information in front of us and put it to rest
  • So lets talk about the mash bill being the first checkbox… Does it use at least 51% of corn?
  • What is it about your yeast and water that make Jack so unique?
  • So lets talk about the distillation process of Jack Daniels because it’s in the United States which hits a check box. It follows pretty much every other bourbon law if i’m not mistaken, meaning that you aren’t adding flavoring agents, distilling at no more than 160 proof and entering the barrel at no more than 125 proof
  • Give me an idea of what the Lincoln County process is?
  • So you’re really just trying to one up Kentucky Bourbon then?
  • You use new charred oak barrels, yes?
  • In 2014, legislation was introduced in the Tennessee legislature that would modify the 2013 law to allow the reuse of oak barrels in the Tennessee whiskey aging process. But you opposed the legislation, why? is it because you secretly love bourbon?
  • And it’s bottled at 80 proof which is also another checkbox.
  • So by in large it follows the all the laws of being a bourbon… but it doesn’t want to be.
  • Do you believe this is a major influence on the flavor or “charcoal mellowing” of Jack Daniels?
  • Why do you think the general public cares if it’s a bourbon or tennessee whiskey? Is it because we have too much time on our hands?
  • Do you start hearing of people from Kentucky who tell stories about disowning their sons when they bring a bottle of Jack to christmas because “it’s not bourbon”?
  • Does it go the other way that Tennesseans don’t want to be associated to Kentucky bourbon?
  • But it’s funny because Jack Daniels is a part of Brown-Forman, the same family as Woodford Reserve and Old Forester but it’s a substantial portion of the portfolio.
  • Fred Minnick goes as far as saying that the federal government needs to define Tennessee Whiskey so this will be ended once and for all.
  • So I think we’ve hit on a lot but I want to give our snobby listeners out there a taste of what’s beyond the signature black label. If someone out there wants to get into the other expressions where do they start?

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