A Day In The Life Of…

09 Oct 2014
4 min read
Jeff Arnett is the Master Distiller of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. He tells us about his day.

I can’t say that I have an average day or even a typical day, because every day can be wildly different. I only spend 50 days a year out of office, so most of my time is spent in Lynchburg.


In the morning I’m one of the first people into the office and I typically make the first pot of coffee for everybody in the office. I turn on my computer, pull up production reports that have been generated since I was last there and I look at what the numbers are saying. With 500 employees and 2,000 acres of ground to cover, I can’t look at everything by myself, so I have a lot of help there. But things will come across my desk that tell me how things are going. And that will often dictate my day. I review reports and have to prepare capital requests. In some regards I’ll answer to the general manager and the board of directors of our company as far as how money is being spent at the distillery. At the end of the day it is a business and we have shareholders and a responsibility, too.


At the moment I’m preparing a large capital request as I have to purchase some equipment that will be installed in the distillery.In the afternoon the board of directors, who have oversight over our corporation, come to visit us and we’ll try and figure out what we want to present to them and who is going to present it. And we only have so much time and we need to decide how to spend it.

I run the distillery and we have someone who is bottling, warehousing and coordinates shipments and together we will decide what the best way to use the board of director’s time is while they’re here. We want this to be educational for them and in a way we want to soften them up because we’re going to be coming back asking them for capital. Any project that goes up above $2million in cost, we have to get the board of director’s approval.

I also hire and fire and do interviews. But my group of people is primarily responsible for making whiskey. There’s a certain business element to my job, but there’s also a production element. I have an engineering degree but I also have a master’s degree in business, so it’s important that you can do both. Especially if you have to run a brand.


But my premiere responsibility is the consistency and the quality of the whiskey. That really is the driving thing of my day. The one statement that we can contribute to Jack Daniel’s was: Every day you make it, make it the best you can. It was what he told he employees 100 years ago, and it’s still up on the wall. We’re not making decisions that will somehow compromise the whiskey that we’re making.

I focus on taking water and grains, fermenting and distilling them, do some charcoal mellowing and putting it into a barrel. And then after that I’ll taste them.

I try to taste on a daily basis. I meet people who work for Jack Daniel’s around the world who come to visit Lynchburg.

My work is 80% production, and 20% marketing and ambassador work. And that 20% could be government relations, distributors, meet & greet dinners… but in my core I’m a production guy. I am the whisky maker of Jack Daniel’s. I’m the head of the master tasters panel. For the whiskeys that we have, based in the warehouse, we have a statistically valid sampling programme, where, based on how big a lot is, we go in and take enough barrel samples out and we bring them into the lab and taste them. We have 99% confidence in everything that is in that lot, that we have seen it. But we’re not trying every single one. A lot could be 1,000-2,000 barrels.

If we approve a single barrel lot, we may go through 25-30 samples that may represent 500-700 barrels. Once the lot is approved, every single barrel goes through two tasters before it gets to the consumer.

On a larger scale, for the batches of Black Label, we’re checking every single entry date, every single warehouse, deciding if the lot is ready or not. Nothing goes out before it’s been tasted multiple times.


I think a lot of people are seeing this job as spending my nights in bars and stuff like that, but I really only do that when I’m on the road. I enjoy the opportunity to do this, having nice meals and drinks, but I have two young children and am very happily married. So at the end of the day I’m headed home and I’m not the master of the distillery anymore, I’m just husband and father. For me those two roles are even more important than the Master Distiller. Because if I fail at those two it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes when I get home we have friends over, I definitely take the spoils of my work home. I enjoy a drink. And if you taste during the day you have to spit it out and can’t drink the whole lot. If you drink one you will ruin your ability to taste the ones after because it will colour it. If you’re going through 30 samples, drinking each one, you’ll have so much fatigue that you really won’t be doing a very good job. So you have to have the discipline of rinsing and spitting it out to be able to do the job and do it well.

At the end of the day I want to relax and will definitely drink a glass of it. I’ll sit down and watch TV, play with the kids and help them with homework, ask my wife to go out and have dinner. Other than my job and my title, I think we’re a pretty normal family. When I get home from work I kind of morph into a different person and am not the master distiller anymore.