LYNCHBURG, Tenn. (WTVF) — Elvis. Dolly. Jack.
Three names synonymous with Tennessee. Jack Daniel was first, though.
The distillery — founded nearly 150 years ago — is used to making history as the number one selling whiskey in the world. Now, a woman, who’s becoming a household name herself is helping make more. Tennessee native Lexie Phillips knows about whiskey, its history, and how she got here.
Phillips grew up just miles down the road, in nearby Estill Springs, Tennessee. She’s had over two dozen family members work at Jack Daniel's, past and present. Now, to be helping lead a global spirits company is still surreal for Phillips.
"There are days it feels like I’m still just kind of dreaming," she said.
She is, after all, the first female assistant distiller in its' illustrious history.
"It’s just — it’s amazing. It’s quite the feeling," she said.
It was her great aunt, a supervisor in bottling, that gave her the nudge to apply to Jack Daniel's back in 2013. Philips was already familiar with many employees besides her family. She spent her high school years waiting tables at the nearby Iron Kettle, serving her current co-workers,
"All [of] the maintenance men that I’ve worked with the last eight years, I waited on them, got their tables ready. I could still probably tell you what half of them drink," she said.
She started in quality control, working her way up to distiller. It wasn’t long before she got the nod that would change her life.
"Chris Fletcher, our master distiller, called me in his office and he asked if I’d want to do a little more — if this is something I’d be interested in," Phillips said.
With that, for the first time after its founding in 1875, a woman is in one of the most powerful and influential positions within the worldwide whiskey industry as assistant distiller.
"Growing up around here . . . around Jimmy Bedford, and Jeff Arnett, and now Chris Fletcher. I mean, you don’t know how to train to be something like this, you know? They’re just held in such high regard. It was just a surreal feeling," she said.
It’s a lot of science, which is where her Middle Tennessee State University degree in agricultural science pays off. It’s also part palate, part personality. Philips, however, remains humble. Simplifying what’s hard to quantify.
"It’s really just being able to see the differences from barrel to barrel and honestly, learning how to pick up those flavors," she said.
Protecting legacy and promoting innovation — Phillips tells NewsChannel 5 it’s what her role is really all about.
She admits, at times, shouldering the expectations and demands can be a bit intimidating, but she has support from so many at Jack Daniel's who’ve been beside her the whole journey. Most notably, her husband, who she met at Jack Daniel's.
"He is so proud. I mean he is my rock. Because, it has taken a lot of growth for me to be a distiller talking with maintenance and quality control, and he has been right there beside me, helping me the whole way."
As her legacy in whiskey's being written, women young and old, are admiring her work.
"I had my first bottle signing a couple weeks ago, and a little girl came in and she said, ‘I want to be a master distiller one day, just like you!’ And it almost brought tears to my eyes. Just to be able to show women that we can do this that means a lot to me," she said.