Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jack Daniel's Master Taster Jeff Norman: A Taste of Whiskey Before His First Cup of Coffee

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 at 11:50 AM

On Thursday, March 29th, 6 p.m., it's the annual Jack Daniel's Meet the Master Taster Dinner & Whiskey Tasting at the Peabody's Capriccio Grill.

Jeff Norman
  • Jeff Norman

The master taster diners will be meeting is Jeff Norman whose company bio includes the quote, "Most people find it hard to believe that I actually taste whiskey each morning before I have my first cup of coffee — in order to taste with a clean palate."

Norman spoke to Hungry Memphis about what being a Jack Daniel's master taster involves, the Peabody dinner, and his cocktail of choice.

Flyer: You taste whiskey first-thing in the morning?
Jeff Norman: We bottle whiskey every day, Monday through Friday, and as we’re bottling, there are samples from those bottling tanks that we check before that bottling tank is released. So the first thing I do when I come in is taste a few of those samples and give it my blessing and away we go.

Are there particular flavor profiles you're going to find in Jack Daniel's and not another whiskey?
There are. We have our Gentleman Jack. We have our Black Label. We have our Single Barrel. As I’m tasting each brand, I’m paying particular attention to tastes and aromas that should be there, such as caramel notes and vanilla notes, butterscotch, cinnamon, brown sugar. Those sweet notes are derived from the white oak barrel in which we mature the whiskey. We toast the inside of the barrels, which caramelizes the natural sugars, and those sugars will relay themselves into the whiskey as it matures. So those sweet notes should be there along with some oak character it gets from the barrel.

It's that, and the grains that we use, and the very important step of charcoal mellowing, which makes us a Tennessee whiskey. All of that gives Jack Daniel’s a very distinct flavor and aroma.

You’re never going to taste Jack Daniel’s and think of something else, and you’re never going to taste something else and think of Jack Daniel’s. It’s that unique and it’s that profound.

How does one train to be a master taster?
It’s a lot of on-the-job training and practice.

What I started out on before I became a master taster is the master panel. We pick the whiskeys that will become our Single Barrel whiskeys, which are our most unique and mature whiskey. I was asked to join that group and was put through a rigorous program to be sure that my palate was discerning, and lucky for me it was.

Tell me about the dinner.
You’re going to taste all Jack Daniel’s has to offer, including Jack Daniel’s new liqueur Tennessee Honey. We’re also going to have a wonderful dinner. Each course has Jack Daniel’s incorporated into the cuisine. So not only is Jack Daniel’s good to enjoy neat or in a cocktail, it’s also amenable to food recipes as well.

I’ll give a little bit of a background on the history of the Jack Daniel’s and let people ask questions.

When you clock out at 5 p.m., do you leave work at work?
I do in a sense. When I’m tasting throughout the day at work, it’s like a wine-tasting, so I’m spitting the whiskey out, rinsing with water, and moving on to the next sample. But whenever I go out to a bar or restaurant I like to revisit work for real.

Cocktail of choice?
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel over the rocks. That’s as fancy as I get.

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