Food & Drink

How Jack Daniel’s First Female Assistant Distiller Is Helping Make History With A New 10-Year-Old Release

The last year at Jack Daniel’s has included making history — as well as revisiting it to revive forgotten products.

In March, Lexie Phillips made history by becoming the first woman named Assistant Distiller at the Tennessee whiskey brand. She’s been working with Chris Fletcher, who was promoted in October to the Master Distiller role, on whiskey quality and innovation. Their first big product launch since taking over their new roles is reviving a product that many whiskey fans will be surprised to know even existed: a Jack Daniel’s whiskey with an age statement on the label.

A 10-year-old Jack Daniel’s will start hitting shelves in limited quantities in September. The whiskey, 97 proof and $70 a bottle, has fewer of those classic Jack banana notes, but is still a sweet-forward whiskey, with dried fruit, cocoa and smoke on the palate, and a long finish.

“Jack Daniel himself did age stated versions of our classic No. 7 whiskey recipe at 10, 12, 14, 18, 21 years old,” Fletcher said at a preview tasting of a 10-year-old barrel at the end of July. “We either have bottles of those or we have pictures. We know that those were all done.”

It’s likely that whiskey was bottled while Jack Daniels was still alive. He died in 1911, and prohibition went into effect in Tennessee about 10 years before it did nationally in 1920, said Nelson Eddy, Jack Daniel’s in-house historian. Daniel left the distillery to his nephew Lem Motlow, and the family stopped using ages on bottles in the early 1950s, although those older iterations weren’t made again after prohibition, Nelson said.

One of the reasons the Motlow family quit putting on the label how old the whiskey was is because age statements can be misleading for consumers. One example: A host of different factors make a 10-year-old Scotch very different than a 10-year-old Tennessee whiskey. The climate in Tennessee and using new oak barrels (Scotch is made with used barrels) means that the liquid has much more interaction with the barrel and could easily become too woody.

Fletcher used modern techniques to avoid the pitfalls of over-extraction from the barrel. Barrels used in the 10-year-old spend about seven to eight years at the top of a rickhouse, where it is hotter and dryer, and then were moved to the bottom where it’s cooler and more humid. The goal, Fletcher said, is to get some of the oxidation and esterification reactions that will mellow the whiskey, but slow down the wood interaction and evaporation rates.

“When Lexie came into her role in November, we were narrowing in on what barrels we would use for this offering,” Fletcher said of Phillips, who had been working in quality control and was previously serving as the distillery’s lead operator. 

She’d work with the warehousing department to get samples to take them down to the lab and cut them down to proof.

“Chris and I would taste the samples and discuss the flavors from each, ultimately deciding on this lot of whiskey,” Phillips said. “It is a delicious sip which made the anticipation of this release grow even more.”

The label also looks strikingly like the historic bottle, recreating the vintage gold cartouche on the label.

Both Fletcher and Phillips have a deep sense of how much history and the Jack Daniel’s brand means. Fletcher grew up in Lynchburg, and his grandfather, Frank Bobo, was the head distiller from 1966 to 1989. Phillips grew up just outside of Lynchburg and has, at last count, 24 family members who have worked or work at the distillery or in a job related to it. When she moved into her new office, her dad called — but she hadn’t given him the number. He remembered it from calling her grandmother back in the 1960s.

It makes sense that the past would be a big part of the future.

“I am so so so excited, along with Lexie and our team, to be able to literally recreate something from our past,” Fletcher said. “This is about honoring what Jack himself did. To our knowledge, this [making age statement whiskies] has not been done since Jack was alive.”

The 10-year-old will be an annual release, and part of a growing number of products that will expand the brand into different ages. For those wondering where else the brand will go next, Fletcher brings up Phillips’ educational background in Agricultural Science and has also mentioned experimenting with different grains.

“My goal is to have the most complete and diverse set of aging whiskey in the industry and it takes years if not decades to get to that point,” Fletcher said. “We are already digging into future whiskey offerings as far out as 2030 and beyond. The future is bright at Jack Daniel’s and Lexie Phillips is a huge part of that.”

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