At the base of the Smoky Mountains, along the Little River in Townsend, Tennessee, sits Company Distilling, a new distillery formed by friends with a history of crafting exceptional spirits.


Friends become business partners

Jeff Arnett and Kris Tatum have impressive whiskey resumes of their own.

Before Arnett became master distiller of Company Distilling, he worked at Jack Daniel’s for nearly 20 years, serving as master distiller for 12 and expanding the famous whiskey company’s portfolio from three products to 11. He also won Master Distiller of the Year in 2017.

It was never Arnett’s intention to become master distiller at Jack Daniel’s. In fact, he graduated college with an engineering degree and had hoped to work in the automotive field. But as fate would have it, his journey led him to Lynchburg.

“Every job they gave me at Jack Daniel’s I just tried to sink my teeth into, do the best job that I could,” Arnett said. “I think it was fortunate for me because I ended up in the quality control manager job at the distillery, which allowed me to work everywhere.”

Tatum is the current president of Company Distilling and the founder and former president of the Tennessee Distillers Guild. He helped advance legislation that increased revenue and alleviated taxes for all distillers in the state, often alongside Arnett. This is where their friendship began.

One day Tatum received a call from Arnett wondering if he’d be interested in starting a whiskey brand together. For him, the answer was simple.

“I was like, ‘Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t be?'” Tatum said. “Jeff Arnett and Jack Daniel’s? That’s kind of a no brainer.”

However, the two took some time to think it through. Arnett was still at Jack Daniel’s, and Tatum was not interested in moving his family out of East Tennessee. In the end, this was an opportunity Arnett didn’t want to regret not taking.

“It was bittersweet because I love the Jack Daniel’s brand and the people of Lynchburg,” Arnett said. “I learned a ton, but there was that moment where I was like, ‘You know, this is an opportunity that if I have the right partners and backing, I feel like we can do something.’”

Before long, they found the right people to build the idea with: Corey Clayton, an accomplished construction management professional, Heath Clark, founder of H. Clark Distillery and Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes. Since then, their team has continued to grow.

“We are committed to doing the best that we know how to, and our know-how is pretty deep even though we’re a new company,” Arnett said. “If we tallied it all up, we have 60 to 70 years of combined experienced in the industry.”

Photo Credit: Company Distilling; Pictured L to R: Kevin Clayton, Kris Tatum, Heath Clark, Jeff Arnett, Nathan Osborne and Cory Clayton


The Company Distilling name is born

When it came to picking a name for the distillery, it wasn’t an easy process. They looked at 40 different options, and after much deliberation, they decided on Company Distilling.

Despite what you might think of when you hear the world “company,” the word originally meant, “those you break bread with.”

“We were building a new company, but we enjoyed one another’s company, and we wanted to create that one bottle you think of when you have people coming over,” Arnett said.

“…we wanted to create that one bottle you think of when you have people coming over.”

Jeff Arnett, Master Distiller, Company Distilling

So, that’s exactly what they did. Arnett created Company’s bourbon himself, and after sending it through a taste testing team, he believes it’s a sip everyone can enjoy.

“I call it approachable complexity,” he explained. “I wanted it to be approachable to the new drinker, and yet complex enough a mature drinker found it interesting.”

Company Distilling is the first legal distillery in Blount County, so that has provided its own set of challenges, but overall, the experience with the community has been positive, according to Tatum.

“Townsend has been good, but also cautious. They’ve asked a lot of questions,” he said. “They’ve been supportive as well. They want to be educated. They want to know that we’re doing it right, that it’s safe.”

The most shocking thing to Tatum has been the types of customers walking through the front door: They’re all local.

“They’re coming from Knoxville, Maryville, Alcoa and Walland,” Tatum said. “That’s not something you see a lot with distilleries. It’s often one-time or once-a-year faces, the vacationer.”


Separate from the rest

So, what makes Company Distilling unique?

This question used to irritate Tatum. He couldn’t understand why people were worried about differentiation. To him, just because something’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad.

“First off, we are the best distillery in the state,” Tatum stated confidently. “That’s easy. Everybody else should just know that. But that doesn’t mean the others are bad.”

For Tatum, it’s all about the community and the opportunities within that community. Not many distilleries have the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop.

“What sets us apart is where we’ve chosen to build our future. It’s not that we have better bourbon,” Tatum said. “Every palate is different. Some people are going to absolutely love ours because it’s good, and some are going to love it because they had a good time here.”

Photo Credit: Company Distilling


Moving forward

Aside from Townsend, Company Distilling will also have locations in Thompson Station and Alcoa, with Alcoa serving as the primary distillery and location for the spirit’s main manufacturing.

The distillery’s portfolio will continue to expand. Currently, it has Company Bourbon, Ghost Rail Gin and eight different flavored spirits on the shelves. Soon, they’ll add vodka, beer and a 120-proof bourbon. The goal is to eventually be a one-stop shop.

“We’ll specialize at different locations,” Arnett said. “If you’re a gin fan, go to Thompson Station. If you like flavored spirits, vodka or beer, you’ll come to Townsend. Alcoa will be our main hub for bourbon whiskey.”

When it comes to where they want to build their brand, both Arnett and Tatum agree that they wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.

“If someone is looking at investing and wants to get into distilled spirits, Tennessee has got to be high on your list of states you’re wanting to do that in, simply because of the long reputation that exists for the state to create fine spirits,” Arnett said.

“…one thing we do better than all of them is we talk about how proud we are of our state.”

Kris Tatum, President, Company Distilling

“It’s kind of hard not to be proud for being here, but that pride isn’t any greater than the folks in Kentucky or Georgia or anywhere else,” Tatum said. “But one thing we do better than all of them is we talk about how proud we are of our state.”

As far as Arnett is concerned, the sky’s the limit as to what they can do.

“If you have good people around you, good things are bound to happen, it’s just a matter of when,” Arnett said. “We’re proud to call Tennessee home and to give Blount County its first legal distillery.”

To learn more about Company Distilling, visit

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