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HERS & HIS: Distillery releases two new barrel finished rye whiskeys

  • Jack Daniel’s Assistant Distiller Lexie Amacher Phillips and Jack Daniel’s Taster Josh Phillips will be the first husband and wife to ever release Distillery Series bottles together. (Photo Courtesy of Jack Daniel’s Distillery)

    By Tabitha Evans Moore | Editor & Publisher

    LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — It’s a Thursday afternoon in The Holler and Assistant Distiller Lexie Amacher Phillips and her husband, Jack Daniel’s Taster Josh Phillips, have a friendly rivalry going. It’s the first time a husband and wife team have ever tackled a whiskey innovation project together and things are adorably competitive.

    “I never thought I’d get to see my name on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s so it’s a really big deal,” Lexie says.

    “Me either,” adds Josh. “It’s been a fun process.”

    As their whiskey moves from warehousing to processing and bottling, their coworkers often need to taste it for quality control purposes and Josh isn’t the least bit shy about asking which whiskey their coworkers and friends prefer.

    “Once I know they’ve tasted them both, I’ll just put them on the spot,” Josh jokes. “I give them no time to prepare.”

    Not that they’re keeping an official score but Lexie says the tally seems close to 50/50 at the moment.

    “It really just comes down to which flavor profile you prefer, spicy or sweet,” she says.

    His is sweet. Hers is spicy.

    This week everyone else will get a chance to compare and contrast as the distillery will release not one but two barrel finished rye whiskeys as part of their line of small batch, experimental whiskey known as the Distillery Series (formerly known as the Tennessee Tasters’ Selection). Josh’s selection will be Selection #8 – Toasted Maple Barrel Rye and Lexie’s iteration will be Selection #9 – Toasted Barrel Finished Rye.

    Both bottles will be available beginning this week in Tennessee only. The White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the Visitor’s Center will have bottles on Friday and area liquors stores should receive them over the weekend. (Photo Courtesy of Jack Daniel’s Distillery)

    Toasted Maple Barrel Rye is a Straight Tennessee Rye Whiskey originally barreled in March 2017 then finished in high-toast, no char maple barrels in September 2021. It’s bottled at 101 proof (50.5% abv) and features a sweet aroma of honey and vanilla with notes of maple, raisins, pralines, and butterscotch with a lasting finish of toasted marshmallow.

    Toasted Barrel Finished Rye is a Straight Tennessee Rye Whiskey originally barreled Summer 2014 and then re-barreled in high-toast, no char oak barrels in October 2019. It’s bottled at 101 proof (50.5% abv) and has notes of caramel and toasted oak with layers of rye spice, molasses, and dark chocolate imparting a full body mouth feel.

    His is sweet and hers is spicy – not unlike their personalities. Josh works in Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel and comes across as a giant teddy bear with a big personality. Distillery officials named Lexie as the first female assistant distiller in March 2021. With her equally big personality and infectious laugh, she’s also “sweet” but her quick wit and industry knowledge give her a bit of an edge.

    A friendship that led to more

    The couple says they met at the distillery over five years ago. Josh works in Single Barrel processing and prior to her promotion to assistant distiller, Lexie worked on the bottling line, still house, and quality control. They developed a friendship that led to more.

    “I’d be testing samples in the lab and he’d come in there 10 times a night. Of course, this is all happening in the middle of night and it’s super quiet. He’d come in and slam his hand or yell – anything to scare the daylights out of me. Somehow, that completely hooked me. We were friends for years before it ever got romantic.”

    Josh jokes that it took several years to muster the courage to ask her on their official first date, which took place at the Nathaniel Rateliff concert the distillery hosted in 2016 to celebrate Jack Daniel’s 150 anniversary. The couple got engaged in August 2019 and wed in June 2020.

    Different barrels mean different whiskey

    Finding barrels to dedicate to a whiskey innovation is a little like treasure hunting and Lexie says the warehousing department nudged them towards a certain lot of rye for the project. She also credits the idea of juxtaposing the two rye whiskeys to Master Distiller Chris Fletcher.

    “We both love rye whiskey and when Chris realized that we had two rye whiskeys finished in different barrels, he thought developing it into different bottles would be cool,” Lexie says.

    The couple tackled the project both together and separately. The warehousing department pulled samples for them and then cut them down to various proofs for the couple to try. After that, Lexie and Josh sat in her office and decided which proofs they both liked — making tasting notes along the way. Then, they went their separate ways to finish the whiskey. Lexie’s whiskey finished in oak barrels for two to three years while Josh’s maple version finished in just nine months.

    “Maple barrels leak because of the loose wood grain. The angels love maple,” Josh explains. “But it also gives it a sweeter taste.”

    “Yeah, you’ll lose as much whiskey in a maple barrel in one year as you will a regular oak barrel in four years,” Lexie adds. “I’m absolutely astounded at how different these two whiskeys are based mainly off the barrel. They both started as rye whiskey but one is sweet like a toasted marshmallow and the other is dark and complex like a cherry cola.”

    From Tennessee Tasters’ Selection to Distillery Series

    The distillery first premiered the Tennessee Taster Selection in 2017 as a small-batch, experimental whiskey project. They decided to change the name to Distillery Series this year to clear up a bit of confusion.

    “Some people just don’t know what a Tennessee Taster is,” says Lexie. “It doesn’t really resonate with everybody.”

    The name change coincides with a bottle change. Due to supply chain issues created during the pandemic, distillery officials were forced to introduce a new bottle for this year. The new bottle sits slightly taller with a longer neck.

    “There’s also an art and science to choosing a bottle that can hold high proof whiskey,” explains Lexie. “There’s so much more involved than you’d ever think.”

    Lexie and Josh say their bottles are just the next thing in a long line of innovations in Lynchburg.

    “In the whiskey game, when you are working toward an innovation, you lay stuff down that you think will be a really great idea but you’re never really sure what you’re gonna get. We build timelines of projects that interest us as far as 5-10 years out,” Lexie says. “Innovation is a huge thing at the distillery currently. It’s a fun part of what we do.”

    Lexie says one of the next projects at the distillery is the annual Single Barrel Special Release that comes out around the holiday season.

    “It’s the debut of our stand alone malt whiskey finished in sherry casks,” she says.

    Sherry refers to aged wines produced mainly in Spain. Since both sherry and Tennessee whiskey are both aged in white oak barrels, they’re a natural fit for the project.

    She’s also excited about two new age-stated whiskeys on the horizon including the second iteration of the popular Jack Daniel’s 10-Year-Old as well as the first time release of a Jack Daniel’s 12-Year-Old that will be released in batches.

    “The different batches will be fun for fans of Jack Daniel’s because it will almost be like trying different vintage of wine. They’ll all be different.”

    Jack Daniel’s Distillery Series Toasted Maple Barrel Rye and Toasted Barrel Finished Rye will be available in 375ml bottles for a SRP of $41.99 after tax beginning this week. The White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the Visitor’s Center in Lynchburg will have bottles beginning on Friday and area liquors stores should receive it over the weekend. •

    {The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}

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