Last week I turned 25. I didn’t take it well – I spent much of the week muttering about how I’m less than halfway to death, but more than a third. But then the Universe threw me a bone. In a case of perfect timing, I was invited to a VIP (don’t ask me when I became a VIP, I don’t even know when I became an IP) party hosted by Jack Daniel’s. ON MY BIRTHDAY. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Jack Daniel’s was my go-to drink of choice when I was 15 (or 18 if my mum is reading this). As I got older, the grandiose notion came into my head that I should branch out and become a whiskey connoisseur. Another of my grandiose notions was learning to spell the word connoisseur.
So, I started working my way through the whiskey selections at local bars and supermarkets – Canadian Club, Jim Beam, Seagram’s, Jameson’s, Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek (prompting massive lolz when I was still a teenager…) to name a few. But I was never able to settle on ‘the whiskey’. That is, until a few years ago. I’d nonchalantly asked for a whiskey and Coke while, no doubt, trying to charm some girl. What the bartender handed me can only be described as ambrosia…or maybe that was the girl’s name. I asked him what whiskey I was drinking. His answer? Jack Daniel’s. I felt like one of those movie characters who chases after some snotty girl for years, only to realise that his next door neighbour (probably played by Anne Hathaway) was the love of his life all along.
Anyway, back to the party. After the Christmas tree made of Jack Daniel’s barrels, pictured above, was erected for the first time outside of Lynchburg, Tennessee it was time to drink. And drink we did. But as well as drinking, I also spoke to Randy ‘Goose’ Baxter, Phil ‘Weejie’ Whitaker and Mark Lonardo about the cult of Jack Daniel’s.
You might think that the use of the word ‘cult’ above is an exaggeration. Trust me, it’s not. Fans, many of them decked head to toe in Jack Daniel’s merchandise and some even proudly bearing JD tattoos, had come from all over to meet the Lynchburg three. Most of them also asked for photos with the guys and to have their bottles autographed by them. I asked Goose if any of this came as a surprise to them. ‘I have to say…not really,’ he replied coolly. ‘Lynchburg is a town of 361 people that receives 280,000 visitors every year. We’ve come to realise that a lot of people think we’re a pretty big deal.’ Weejie, who spends much of his time tasting batches of Jack Daniel’s, modestly added the following – ‘We realise we’ve got something pretty good here. Now we have just have to make sure we don’t mess it up…’ Unfortunately, he wasn’t all that interested in doing a job swap with me.
I also asked about how JD deal with transitioning between being a brand favoured by people like Frank Sinatra and hard rock legends to Ke$ha, Rita Ora and One Direction. The answer was that they…well, don’t. Although they’re aware that a huge range of different artists, writers and drinkers are JD fans, they never let it affect their overall image or their ethos. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that JD have used the same agency since they started advertising, and rarely change their messaging. Over the years, countless brands have claimed that they are more than just a product and that they’re ‘a lifestyle’. I get the impression that Jack Daniel’s are too humble to ever make such a claim, yet they’re probably most deserving of it.