Bryan Jennings -June 2019

Tucked up in a crow’s nest-like office above triple eight’s distilling operation, surrounded by books on distilling and bottles of whiskey, bryan Jennings is doing some math. before he began working in the whiskey business, Jennings’ academic background was in science.

Naked and Famous

3/4 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. Aperol
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Tea-strain up into a chilled coupe glass.

*This drink was created by Joaquín Simó at the famous cocktail bar Death & Co. in New York City.

When asked how important it is to have a science background when making whiskey, he said, “If you don’t have a science background, you’re gonna learn it.”

But the science is only part of it. He refers to whiskey as the perfect balance of science and agriculture. Along with Cisco Brewers part-owner Randy Hudson, he is one of the distillers at Triple Eight.

I had a pint with him at the brewery and we talked about whiskey. Ironically, Jennings grew up in a dry town in the Bible Belt of northern Arkansas.

Nantucket Today:

Where are you from originally?

Bryan Jennings:

“I grew up in the boston Mountains of the ozarks, in Arkansas. For people who don’t know Arkansas, you can pretty much split it up into two parts: the mountains and the delta. My family is from the mountains. they settled there in the 1800s. My grandfather had a cattle farm. My father was the quintessential small-town doctor so he didn’t drink unless we were on vacation. Alcohol wasn’t really a part of my life until i went to college and started working as a bartender.”

Nantucket Today:

Tell me a little about your science background.

Bryan Jennings:

“I studied microbiology at the university of Arkansas. i basically got my degree right before the start of my graduate program. they had just lost a teacher and one of my professors came to me and asked if i could teach a class and start my graduate program early.

All i wanted to do was go climb mountains and travel. i had never been out of the country. I had seen the ocean but never swam in it. Around this time my mother had passed away early in her life from cancer. My professor told me you only have one shot in this life, you can get your master’s in a few weeks. so i finished up my course and graduated with a masters’ degree in science with honors. shortly after that i moved out to Colorado.”

Nantucket Today:

What brought you to Nantucket?

Bryan Jennings:

“I moved to a ski town in Colorado because of a friend. Around this time craft cocktails started to become a big thing. i was bartending in a fine-dining restaurant, and because restaurants up there are more seasonal i started traveling in the off-season.

I had some regulars in beaver Creek, who lived on-island for part of the year and kept trying to get me to move out to Nantucket for the summer. but Colorado is beautiful in the summer, and i loved hiking, so i stayed and became an outdoor guide. i never really wanted to come out here. And then the economy crashed and as a server you went from making crazy money to still really good money, but i started thinking about what the summer was going to be like.

Throughout my travels i started learning how to surf. so one night i looked for a place on-island and lucked out. i got a really cheap apartment and i started bartending at the Pearl in 2009. soon after i met the woman who would become my wife.”

Nantucket Today:

How did you start working for Cisco brewers?

Bryan Jennings:

“I used to go surfing out at ladies (beach) on my days off and i would swing by Cisco after and grab a beer. one day after surfing, Peter burke asked me if i could deliver a couple cases of beer to 21 Federal. i delivered

The beer and for the next couple weeks they wouldn’t let me pay for beer. soon after that a couple of their bartenders couldn’t work a shift because they joined a softball team and the games got scheduled when they were supposed to work. they asked me if i played softball and i said no. Next thing you know i was working a couple days a week behind the bar.”

Nantucket Today:

So in a sense, you went from delivery guy, to bartender, to distiller? to most people, making whiskey would be a dream job.

Bryan Jennings:

“Tracy (Long, general manager of the brewery) asked me if i would want to help with distillation. i remember going home to my wife Jess and saying, ‘i think they just offered me a dream job.’ i had never thought of doing it. it is the perfect balance of agriculture and science.

So i went out and bought a stack of books and asked randy a million questions and bugged him to no end. because of the nature of Nantucket and the isolation, it isn’t easy to get someone to come out and fix things so you end up learning how to fix it yourself. growing up working on a small farm in Arkansas with my father and grandfather, we used to fix the machinery ourselves. there is no better place to learn than here. i’m really lucky that i can go stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Nantucket Today:

How does Nantucket’s climate affect the maturation of the whiskey?

Bryan Jennings:

“We have an oceanic/maritime climate, which is very different to most other places that make whiskey in the united states. one thing you see in a lot of places like Kentucky is alcohol by volume increases. the heat makes the water evaporate quicker. here, as time passes, ethanol evaporates so the proof goes down. Another factor in terroir and taste is good water. here on Nantucket we have our own aquifer and the water is really good. i think in part because it has been filtered through shells that have been breaking down for thousands of years. the sea air is another factor in the terroir.”

Nantucket Today:

How important are the barrels you use?

Bryan Jennings:

“When you look at the maturation of whiskey, the barrel is very important. barrels are made of oak and that wood is adding flavors to the whiskey. Whiskey barrels are also charred on the inside and that creates a layer of charcoal, which acts as a filter and pulls out certain flavors as well.

There are a lot of factors when you think about what barrels you are using. First off, who is the cooper? Where is the wood coming from? then you need to ask how long do they air-dry the staves and how they char the barrel. then when you put the spirit in the barrel, what proof is it?

After all is said and done, where are you going to store it in your warehouse and on what level, because heat rises and that changes the process. there are too many variables to count. it is really hard to replicate what other people are doing. You really have to do your own thing. it is a bit of trial and error. to some extent we just open the doors and let the sea air come in.”

Nantucket Today:

What is your favorite style of whiskey?

Bryan Jennings:

“I love single-malt whiskey, whether it is scotch or Japanese.”

Nantucket Today:

How about your favorite whiskey cocktail?

Bryan Jennings:

“Well, my favorite cocktail is a Naked and Famous, which is made with mezcal, not whiskey. because i am in the whiskey business i usually order a whiskey neat off the shelf, and it is usually something i haven’t had before.”

Nantucket Today:

People talk a lot about the proper way to drink whiskey. What is the proper way?

Bryan Jennings:

“I hate when people say you need to drink whiskey a certain way. When it comes down to it, it’s all preference. if you are enjoying it, that’s the correct way to drink it.”

Nantucket Today:

What is the best bang-for-yourbuck whiskey?

Bryan Jennings:

“In my opinion old grand-Dad bonded 100 Proof. i’m not sure what it is, but it has to be 100 proof. You can get it for like $30.”

Kevin Stanton is an artist and graduate of MassArt, living and working on Nantucket. A bartender in Boston before he moved back to the island, he writes the “Drink” column for Nantucket Today.






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