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Not just whiskey tasting: What it takes to be a Jack Daniel's master distiller

The recipe is just grain, water, yeast and barrel, but there are over 150 years of Tennessee whiskey-making history to maintain in each bottle.

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Establishing a whiskey distillery in a tiny town in a dry county was no small feat for Jack Daniel.

Maintaining this legacy 153 years later falls on the master distillers. 

Chris Fletcher has been the assistant master distiller at Jack Daniel's for over five years, and he said there is a lot more to the job than enjoying the fruits of his labor. 

"A lot of people think we just taste whiskey all day. That's not necessarily the case," Fletcher said. "Tasting is part of it, for sure, but there's also a quality control aspect to it."

Credit: Elizabeth Sims
Whiskey tasting at the Jack Daniel's distillery

Quality control is really putting the responsibility lightly. Even though the basic recipe is grain, water, yeast and barrel, there are over 150 years of Tennessee whiskey-making history to maintain in each bottle. 

"There's this real factor that every drop is made right here in Lynchburg, in this little town, by some of the same families that we know were making whiskey back when Jack [Daniel] was alive," Fletcher said.

These family ties are no less a factor for Fletcher. His grandfather was the master distiller from 1957 to 1989. 

No pressure. 

As if maintaining the Jack Daniel's legacy wasn't enough, Fletcher has other responsibilities in and out of the distillery. 

At the distillery, he said he spends most of his time in the lab doing quality control and using some creativity to concoct new takes on the classic recipe. 

"Everybody knows the tried and true Jack Daniel's Old No. 7, but we also try to stay current and have new things and interesting things," Fletcher said. "[American whiskey consumers] want to try new things and learn new things through whiskey, and with our capabilities and our process, we feel like we need to be at the forefront of whiskey innovations." 

Credit: Elizabeth Sims
Assistant master distiller Chris Fletcher shows off a new flavor in the distillery's Tennessee Tasters series.

With a degree in chemistry and more than a decade in research and development, he is right at home in the lab, but Fletcher also spends roughly a third of his year on the road.

"Part of my role is to kind of be an ambassador," Fletcher said. "I travel about 100 days a year and speak for the brand and about the brand."

He also plays a role in the distillery's "By The Barrel" program, which allows people to purchase an entire barrel of whiskey for personal use or an event. 

RELATED: What makes Tennessee whiskey unique?

Juggling all of these responsibilities, it's no wonder Fletcher has "master" in his job title, but he said he and master distiller Jeff Arnett get too much credit because their positions make them "the face of the brand."

"Jeff would be the first to tell you, and I would agree, that there are a lot of great distillers here. Just because we have 'master' in the title, there's a lot of people here that could have 'master' in their title," Fletcher said.

Modesty aside, there is one big benefit to having "master" in his title. Only master distillers can tap a barrel in the barrel houses. 

Credit: Elizabeth Sims
Inside a barrel house at the Jack Daniel's distillery

Carrying on Jack Daniel's requires a lot of knowledge, commitment and passion, but the effort is worth maintaining this little town's point of pride. 

"There's not a lot happening in Lynchburg, Tennessee, but we do one thing really well, and that's making whiskey," Fletcher said.


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