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An Interview with Jack Daniel’s new Homeplace Director Erik Brown

Jack Daniel’s new Homeplace Director Erik Brown stands in front of the Visitor’s Center on a recent Tuesday. He took over the position in July 2021. (Lynchburg Times Photo)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Erik Brown’s first day as Lynchburg Homeplace Director at the Jack Daniel Distillery was a whole three act play.

He started his day excited.

“It just felt good coming into work,” he says. “I pulled into Lynchburg and saw the Motlow House, and it was just pure joy. I knew I was home.”

Then he got the calendar of events.

“We were adding the 10 Year Age Stated release, and the upcoming Jack Daniel’s Barbecue, and then the Coy Hill Single Barrel release. I hit the ground running.”

Then, the first news of the new Delta Variant hit his desk.

“One of my first emails to the team, was, hey this is a thing now and we’re going to be monitoring it closely,” he says. “It was a big unknown when I first arrived.”

He says when he first took the Homeplace Director position, he worried if the locals would accept an outsider, a fear that quickly disappeared.

“I’ve felt welcome from the minute I walked in,” he says. “Master Distiller Chris Fletcher really helped me learn about the production side and history. Marsha Hale also took me under her wing and made sure I had everything I needed to succeed.”

The Louisville to Lynchburg connection

Erik comes to Lynchburg via Louisville, Kentucky — the headquarters of Jack Daniel’s Distillery’s parent company Brown-Forman. He’s a native and a graduate of the University of Louisville, who originally dreamed of becoming a thoroughbred horse trainer.

“My aunt and uncle owned a very small breeding farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I worked there every summer and started walking hots for them when I was about 10 years old,” Erik says. “I got to travel all around the state and parts of Indiana with them and it’s where my love of horse training developed.”

Erik says he served as an assistant trainer for Dennis of Cork, the horse that placed third at the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

“That was one of the meanest horses I’ve ever encountered,” Erik jokes. “He was brilliant on the racetrack but definitely not a pet horse.”

Eric left the horse training world in 2011 to take a position with the Kentucky Derby Museum located near the Churchill Downs Racetrack just 10 minutes from downtown Louisville. The museum tells the history of the longest continuously running sporting event in the country. Like Jack Daniel’s Distillery the museum tells a piece of southern history and welcomes over 300,000 visitors each year.

From there, he took a position with Brown-Forman as the Manager of Visitor’s Experience at Old Forester’s downtown Louisville location. He helped build their guest experience from scratch, a process that involved bringing a fully functioning distillery with cooperage to a newly revitalized downtown area.

He and his wife, Cristina, now live in Spring Hill with their three children: twins Gabriela and Alexander and their younger sister, Eliana. He commutes to Lynchburg from Spring Hill each day.

“It’s about 55 minutes but it’s a beautiful drive,” he says. “I’m an early riser. That’s a holdover from my horse training days. I get up around three of four in the morning. I use my commute to make calls and get ahead so I can hit the ground running once I’m in Lynchburg.”

Named Lynchburg Homeplace Director in July 2021

For those who don’t know what a Homeplace Director does, Erik is the person who is responsible for the non-production side at the Jack Daniel Distillery from the Visitor Center and the White Rabbit Bottle Shop to Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant and the Lynchburg Hardware General Store. His decisions run the gambit from deciding which spring flowers to plant and when garbage should be picked up to producing special events, developing guest experiences, and handling the details of VIP visits.

“We’re the communication hub between the brand, production, and the visitor’s experience,” he explains. “We also have a partnership with Tennessee Tourism and manage those relationships.”

It might or might not surprise you to know that Lynchburg, Tennessee is the second most popular tourist destination in the state. Only Nashville ranks higher. Our tiny town receives well over 300,000 visitors each year and Erik says it’s his job to make sure each and every one of them enjoys their time here and leaves with a great story.

Lynchburg’s where he’s always wanted to be

Erik says he always knew he’d end up in Lynchburg.

“I fell in love with this place the very first time I was here. About three months into my first position at Brown-Forman, I visited Lynchburg and instantly knew it’s where I eventually wanted to be,” he says. “From the place to the people to the history, it just all blew me away. I was always looking for a reason to come down here.”

Now that he is here, Erik says he likes to walk everywhere to really take in every little detail.

“I just love walking the tour path and the area by Jack’s office and the Cave Spring in particular,” he says. “There’s just so much history there. It’s where Jack himself walked and I often wonder what he’d think about this world-wide phenomenon that sprung up around his story.”

Everyone gets the same behind-the -scenes peek

Seems like someone famous is always popping in down at the Distillery and Erik says he’s already had his first celebrity encounter.

“Dave Matthews visited a few weeks ago. That was really cool,” he says. “Whether it’s a celebrity, celebrity or an industry person like a bartender or DJ, there seems to always be someone on the grounds that is going to be impactful to the business and that’s different here than anywhere else I’ve ever worked.”

Erik says what he really likes about Jack Daniel’s is that the celebrity tour and the everyday tour are basically the same behind-the-scenes peek at how the product is made.

“There is really nothing hidden around here. It’s all right there in front of you,” he says.

Erik says he’s excited to see what the spring tourism season brings to Lynchburg and grateful to see the tourism industry in general returning to some form of normal. If COVID numbers remain low, his team is looking at returning family-style dining to Miss Mary Bobo’s soon. He also hinted that there are some cool, new whiskey releases planned for 2022. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only locally owned newspaper in Lynchburg and also the only woman-owned newspaper in Tennessee. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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