A Jack Daniel's master distiller launches Smokies-inspired whiskey with a Townsend tasting room

A former Jack Daniel's master distiller is launching a new Tennessee whiskey inspired by the Great Smoky Mountains.

Company Distilling's bourbon whiskey will debut this fall in East Tennessee, led by Jeff Arnett, who departed the top-selling American whiskey brand in September.

The company will invest at least $25 million to build a manufacturing facility and campus in Alcoa and a tasting room in Townsend that serve as gathering places for its fans and customers.

"Everything we (did) at Jack Daniel's, it was always about being the biggest," Arnett told Knox News in an interview Monday. "I want this next chapter of my life to be about being the best, no matter what it takes."

Company Distilling will focus on whiskey

Arnett spent 12 years leading production at Jack Daniel's and helped expand its portfolio to include flavored and super-premium products. But he dreamed of creating his own brand.

The team includes two others with distilling experience, Company's president Kris Tatum and Heath Clark, founder of H. Clark Distillery. Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton and construction executive Corey Clayton are also partners.

"If we wanted to do this, if we held hands, we'd be stronger together than we would be apart," Arnett said.

The team brainstormed a dozen potential names, inspired by everything from the mountains to the railroad, but the shared joy of hosting friends and spending time together inspired the brand.

"A lot of people, when they think the word company, they think of a business entity," Arnett said. "But that's not where the word's origins come from. It was actually a much more social term, and it meant those you break bread with. And so that we felt like that spoke to us."

While Arnett plans to add flavored spirits, vodka and gin to Company's repertoire later, whiskey will be its flagship product.

Arnett, who traveled to 40 countries as an ambassador for Jack Daniel's, said he wants the product to be complex enough for a mature drinker but approachable for new whiskey drinkers.

He hopes it will be a bottle customers pour quickly.

"We're gonna have the best bourbon in the world," Tatum said. "And we got Jeff, you know what I'm saying? ... But we want to be more than just that, and we want to be good company, that's the bottom line."

Company will launch with a bourbon that blends three different distillates, matured in a charred oak barrel and finished with maple, which Arnett describes as an approachable, sweet finishing note.

"Without resorting to flavoring, (wood finishing) is a great way to take any liquid that might be fairly basic, approachable, nice and soft, and then build another layer of character into it," Arnett said.

Company has chosen its bottle but has faced sourcing delays. It plans to produce about 40,000 cases of its bourbon in the first year. Arnett said they hope to have product ready when Company opens its tasting room this fall in Townsend.

Tatum anticipates a standard bottle will cost $50 to $60.

Company will first appear on shelves and build distribution in Tennessee, followed by a handful of other states. But Arnett said Company's bourbon has the potential to be distributed internationally.

"If we can spend a little bit more money and make a better product, that's what our focus is going to be, because that's what we're going to be competing on is quality," Arnett said.

Clayton Homes is also headquartered in Blount County. Kevin Clayton said Company's tagline, "gather around," is inspired by the region's natural beauty and enthusiasm for the outdoors.

"We have the river, the greenway and biking trails," he said in a press release. "We’re a place where people can come to sip good spirits and connect with friends for time well spent.”

Enjoy the outdoors at Alcoa distillery

Company's partners saw an opportunity to fill a void in East Tennessee's liquor market, which they said has lacked a premium whiskey brand.

"As much as Tennessee has the reputation for whiskey and premium whiskey, it's not in East Tennessee right now," Arnett said. "There's a lot of moonshine, lot of flavored products here."

Arnett, who lives in Middle Tennessee, will relocate to East Tennessee next year.

Company Distilling will first construct a 4,000-square-foot tasting room in Townsend, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located between the Little River and the Townsend Greenway, the 13.5-acre property is slated to open later this year.


Company will also start work on its 20,000-square-foot primary distillery facility in Alcoa. It's adjacent to the planned Springbrook Farm development, which will become a retail and residential hub when it's completed.

"A lot of (distilleries are) right in the middle of the tourist centers, there's not a lot of green space around them," Tatum said. "You kind of pass through, you grab and go. We wanted our properties to be an alternative to that where you felt like you could spend hours."

Company will refurbish a brick factory for barrel storage and build a distillery adjacent to it. Scheduled to open in 2022, the Alcoa campus will include a tasting room, restaurant, brewery, retail, bonfire pits and room for live music and outdoor activities on its 31-acre property.

Early designs of the facility call for an exposed structure with a glass roof "that gives you the feeling of being outside while remaining sheltered," according to renderings.

Company anticipates creating 50 to 60 new jobs initially and plans to open a tasting room and retail store in Middle Tennessee sometime in 2022.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


Published April 20, 2021