Food & Drinks

Jack Daniel’s new master distiller talks flavoured whisky in Kenya

Whisky1

Women at a Jack Daniels women only tasting. PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • Drinkers are getting younger and experimental, more of them female or looking at whisky as an after-dinner drink or something else where whisky would not necessarily be poured.
  • This has prompted distillers to drop their old-school recipe and mix up new ingredients.

The whisky world has changed dramatically in the past few years. Once defined exclusively by a woody flavour, it is now smooth and spicy, as distillers experiment with cinnamon or rye or fruits.

Drinkers are getting younger and experimental, more of them female or looking at whisky as an after-dinner drink or something else where whisky would not necessarily be poured.

This has prompted distillers to drop their old-school recipe and mix up new ingredients.

Thirst for flavoured whisky is growing and Jack Daniel’s is among the distillers that are joining in the race to increase sales in the new segment.

The newly-appointed Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller, Chris Fletcher, says the flavoured whiskeys have created a whole range of consumers that the distiller had not initially tapped into.

“We were very late in introducing flavoured whisky in our portfolio. By the time we were launching the Tennessee Honey, other distillers had already introduced their honey-flavoured whiskeys in the American market. When we launched it, we did not expect it to perform as well as it did. One year after we released the Tennessee Honey, we outsold all the other varieties combined,” he said at a virtual Jack Daniel’s whisky tasting event.

In the flavoured portfolio, Jack Daniel’s has Tennessee Honey, Tennessee Fire, Tennessee Apple and Tennessee Rye. The rye flavour is not available in local bars but Mr Fletcher said it will “hit the Kenyan market soon.”

“The rye whiskey incorporates a new recipe style that we just started doing three years ago,” he said.

I have never been an enthusiastic whisky drinker, but the virtual tasting offered a much more intimate and softer feel to the drink.

We are seated at the Social House Nairobi. The dark walls, ceiling, and wooden furniture seem to match the old clichés of whisky.

With a Tennessee Honey cocktail in hand, I am welcomed into the room with five varieties of Jack Daniel’s. It was a cold morning at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg Tennessee, in the US, where Mr Fletcher is joining us from. He is at his office, which some years back used to be his grandfather’s.

Mr Fletcher is the eighth master distiller in the history of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. He was previously an assistant master distiller for six years.

As a master distiller, he serves as a brand ambassador and also oversees the whiskey-making operations.

“A challenge I didn’t expect when I was appointed in this role was the pressure that comes with it. It demands a lot of my time. Sometimes I find myself tasting whiskeys from 40 barrels or more to ensure that we deliver the same quality and taste in every bottle. While I knew what I was getting into, the fact that I am responsible for the quality of the favourite American whiskey across the globe is powerful and it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about,” said Mr Fletcher.

During the tasting, I tried Jack Daniel’s Fire which is cinnamon-flavoured. It has an inviting aroma of cinnamon, sweet and spicy notes with a hint of vanilla. I can actually enjoy this drink on its own, slightly chilled.

Same taste

To ensure the likes of Gentleman’s Jack, Tennessee Honey, Single Barrel Select and Old No.7, have the same flavour every year, Mr Fletcher said they have to make sure they are made the same way.

“We control every aspect of the process from making our barrels from trees that we’ve grown ourselves. We don’t outsource any ingredient that we use and we ensure that our own hands are involved in every step of the whiskey-making process,” he said.

Despite the pandemic having affected the whisky market, Jack Daniel’s said they did not experience shortages in Kenya.

“We just recently placed an order for more stock and things are a bit better now,” said David Mwangi, Jack Daniel’s brand ambassador for Kenya.

The distillery continued to make whiskey during the pandemic while adhering to safety measures.

“We are considered an essential business here in the US and that’s how we were able to continue production. The distillery is made up of the same families that have been making Jack Daniel’s whiskey for a long time so it’s a small community where people are working alongside their family members, neighbours, and friends. Some adjustments had to be made to follow precautionary measures but the process of making the whiskey hasn’t changed at all,” said Mr Fletcher.