The Jack Daniel Distillery was founded by and named for a man — Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel — but the Lynchburg, TN, operation today has a number of women in key positions. Jack Daniel’s hosted several female journalists last year to take an immersive look at the women responsible for making the world’s most popular whiskey.
Lexie Phillips, who was named assistant distiller in 2020, led the group on a tour and a tasting. Phillips had previously worked in Jack Daniel’s quality control and distillery operations, most recently serving as distillery lead operator.
Passing by a vintage branded fire truck on the grounds, Phillips noted that the company has always had an on-site fire brigade. They specialize in fires involving whiskey, she added: “It’s more about containment – you’re not going to put that fire out.”
Jack Daniel’s signature taste comes in part from drips its whiskey through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. The charcoal filter removes some of the corn and grainy notes, some of the acids. This process “flattens out any of the rough edges,” Phillips said. It also lets some of the whiskey’s other flavors shine, such as the fruity pear and apple notes, she noted.
A visit to yeast lab with microbiologist Janessa Grieve revealed some of the chemistry behind the whiskey’s signature sour mash, For instance, lowering the PH helps with contamination, Grieve said.
Two quality control labs monitor the sensory quality of existing products and innovations. The first innovation was Gentleman Jack, which came out in 1988; the second was the 94-proof single barrel brand launched in 1997. Others include the bonded series and single barrel rye.
A brand and marketing panel explained how the company started creating special releases to test products, bring in a new audience and showcase its craft. “We’re working to expand our portfolio to bring in a more premium products,” said Jessica Mazzonetto, global brand manager for Jack Daniel’s super premium brands. That said, panelists stressed that Old No. 7 was “the beating heart” of the business.
A lunch panel discussion with female members of the production team included sisters Debbie Staples and Jackie Hardin. Long-time employees of the distillery, they are also the great-great-granddaughters of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the former slave and master distiller who taught a young Jack Daniel how to make whiskey.
While people in Lynchburg knew something about Green, many didn’t realize the extent of his importance to Jack Daniel’s, and some were dubious and his family’s claims. The launch of Uncle Nearest whiskey in 2017, and the work that Jack Daniel’s has done in recent years to tell the story, helped shine a light on Green’s considerable contribution to whiskey.
Staples, who recently retired after some 40 years with Jack Daniel’s, became emotional during the panel when describing what this recognition has meant to her family: “Now we can talk about it and people believe us.”