Jack Daniel's master distiller retires

Jack Daniel's master distiller, Jimmy Bedford

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: On to an entirely different kind of grain-based alcohol now -- the sipping kind. Jimmy Bedford's going to retire at the end of next month. There's no reason you ought to know that name, unless you're a big fan of Jack Daniels. Mr. Bedford's been with the company 40 years. He's been the master distiller for the past 20 of them. Mr. Bedford, good to have you with us.

JIMMY BEDFORD: Great to be there.

RYSSDAL: Well, congratulations on the retirement, I suppose, first of all.

BEDFORD: Well I, you know, been with the company almost 40 years, and I'm 68 years old, going on nine, so, you know, there comes a time when you have to do something else.

RYSSDAL: How did you get this job in the first place?

BEDFORD: Well I grew up here in, well not in Lynchburg, or outside of Lynchburg, had the opportunity to work here during high school and college, and I worked under the gentleman named Frank Bobo from 68 until 88, and when he retired I was made the master distiller in 1988.

RYSSDAL: Now you didn't do any sampling of the product when you were still in high school, did you?

BEDFORD: Well, you know, really and truly growing up in the country, and at that time I told somebody this and I think I'm right, that I was out of college and maybe had a little job for a couple of years before I ever tasted of Jack Daniels.

RYSSDAL: How do you know what makes a good batch?

BEDFORD:Well first off, we're going to start with, what, the best ingredients that we can buy, and also the cave water, and that's the reason that we're located here at this location to begin with, is because limestone, mineral-free water, so we take the water, buy the best grains that we can: corn, barley malt and rye, and process them. We've got the very best equipment you can put into a distillery, and we take it from there, and making sure that we produce Jack Daniels as it's always been produced.

RYSSDAL: What does it feel like to see your face on the ad there in the magazines or in the newspapers for this product?

BEDFORD: Well, gee, I never think about that. It's not like maybe a football player that throws the football or the baseball player that bats the ball over the fences, but I'm here because I work with a company and I always try to look at it that way and keep that thing in perspective.

RYSSDAL: Lynchburg's in a dry county, isn't it?

BEDFORD: We are. I tell people we've got 76 warehouses here and a total of about 1.8 million barrels of whiskey stored here, and all that's in a dry county, so I tell people to figure that out for me so I can explain it to somebody else.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, right? Not a drop to drink, I suppose, right?

BEDFORD: Right.

RYSSDAL: When you drink Jack Daniels, you know, for yourself, for pleasure, do you take it neat, rocks, how do you drink it?

BEDFORD: Well, I prefer on the rocks, and if I'm at home, I will maybe add a splash of water to it even if I do that, but I do prefer it on the rocks.

RYSSDAL: Jimmy Bedford, soon to retire after 40 years at the Jack Daniels distillery, the last 20 as the master distiller. Mr. Bedford, good luck to you.

BEDFORD: Take care.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...