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JD won’t be pressured into aged releases

There is little chance of Jack Daniel’s ever producing an age-statement whiskey, according to the brand’s master taster.

It has been suggested that the world’s top-selling whiskey needs to look into such an idea in order to maximise the potential of aged whiskey-driven emerging markets such as Asia, but Jeff Norman said the company “can’t let a market dictate to us”.

Speaking to the drinks business at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Norman said: “We have to maintain the quality of the whiskey. Setting it down to age for a specific amount of years would compromise this.”

Such are the seasonal fluctuations in the Tennessee weather conditions that ageing the whiskey in white American oak in the distillery’s warehouses is too unpredictable to specify the length of time it should sit there.

Master distiller Jeff Arnett maintains that the flagship Old No.7 brand is aged for between four to five years before bottling, and Norman explained: “Unlike Scotch, American whiskey is more like picking fruit from a tree.

“We don’t use the term ‘age’, we just use ‘mature’. The whiskey will tell us when it’s ready. If the whiskey is left in the barrel for too long then you start to develop objectionable notes, so the trick is to spot when it’s perfect.”

Tim Young, marketing director for global travel retail, added: “People in markets such as China, Hong Kong and others still see Jack Daniel’s as being aspirational and that’s down to the way we push the brand story above anything else. They are driven by authenticity just as much as they are by age.

“Jack is ready when it’s ready and we educate them to understand that.”

That’s not to say the brand is resting on its laurels. With its Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel variants complementing the flagship Old No.7 brand, the company has looked at extending its appeal to younger drinkers with the launch of Tennessee Honey, a honey-infused liqueur which uses Old No.7 at its base.

“A lot of whiskey brands look to appeal to enthusiasts by producing more intense products but we have gone the other way,” explained Norman of the 35% abv product.

“It will appeal to a slightly younger crowd. When people start enjoying spirits here in the US they tend to favour the sweeter drinks.

“As they get older their palates mature and the start looking for a more refined whiskey. We feel that this can help them forge an affinity with Jack Daniel’s as a brand.”

The product has already been rolled out in the US and Canada and Norman confirmed a UK release would happen “sooner rather than later”, though he admitted the product was still going through a trial period.

Despite the buzz around the new brand extension, Norman insisted that the company’s key focus remains remained maintaining the credibility and reputation of its core products, having learned lessons from a previous venture into uncharted territory.

“Back in the 1980’s we released a beer under the Jack Daniel’s name,” he recalled.

“It didn’t quite go to plan and we were told to stop production as whiskey was what we were good at, not beer.”

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