My Life In Food: Jeff Arnett, master distiller at Jack Daniel's

'Anywhere in the world I smell hickory, it takes me straight home'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Arnett is only the seventh person to hold the position of master distiller at Jack Daniel's since its founding in 1866. Before getting the top job, Arnett was in charge of maintaining the quality of each barrel of JD – which meant a lot of tasting. Today he spends 80 per cent of his time in Lynchburg, Tennessee, overseeing production, and the rest of his time travelling promoting the brand. His newest product is Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I am a man who likes grilling. So my most used piece of cooking kit isn't in the kitchen, it's an open-top, outdoor, charcoal grill. We have a Jack Daniel's barbecue every year, it's a big international cook-off with about 80 teams, and it's something I always look forward to. I don't so much use the microwave any more. As I've get older, I've started taking more account of what I eat; so I hardly ever eat the processed and pre-prepared food that you use it for.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

If there is one thing I would spend £10 on in England, it is Cadbury's chocolate. Not least because my children love it, they think it is the best thing – much better than Hershey's.

What do you eat for comfort?

If there is one thing the area I grew up in around Tennessee is known for it is hickory-smoked pulled pork – so I'd say that. We don't use a tomato base or barbecue sauce, we use something with vinegar in, to which we add slaw, then put it on a bun. When I eat it I feel at home. Anywhere in the world I smell hickory, it takes me straight home.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

That is a tough one, but I don't think it would be bread. Man cannot live by bread alone, remember. So potatoes would be my choice – you can do a little bit more with them than. But I do still enjoy bread, it's always interesting to eat speciality stuff and try to figure out which are the grains I use in making whisky – the crossovers are surprising.

What's your desert island drink?

Well it would be Jack Daniels, unsurprisingly. I could have it with ice and water I suppose – you'd want that on a desert island. But I'm not opposed to a whisky cocktail either. I really appreciate the whole mixology craft because it shows people are thinking about the drinking, considering the flavours in it. The best I've ever had, and the one I'd take to my island, was one I tried in Germany – it was a single barrel JD Old Fashioned, really nice.

What's your favourite restaurant?

After college, I worked in the food industry outside New Orleans. So I like food cooked in the Cajun tradition. Seafood, especially. My favourite restaurant isn't particularly fancy, but I like it, it is a place called Papa Roux. It serves fresh fish of the day with an Alexander sauce.

What's your favourite cookbook?

My favourite cookbooks are the ones that have been passed down through the family. My favourite is my father's mother's book; she was a big cook, and just seeing her handwritten recipes for all these dishes gives me such a tingle.

Who taught you about whisky?

I had 10 years working in food and drink before I came to work at Jack Daniels but it was here I learnt most of what I know, how to discern the most minor of differences between barrels – and how to taste it properly.