How an unlikely assemblage of friends with a history of building distilleries, spirits and communities created the Company Distilling brand

The initial vision for Company Distilling was to be more than just a whiskey brand. The unlikely assemblage of friends envisioned being a full portfolio spirits company. They had the resources, being they had a collective group experience that brought a variety of different perspectives to the table.

Founder Jeff Arnett says they were stronger as a group, especially when they were thinking about doing more than just one thing. From that power of being a small, nimble and passionate collection of minds came the freedom to control its own destiny.

Based in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee—Townsend, to be exact—the first Company Distilling location was a 4,000-square-foot tasting room and restaurant at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Set along the Little River with the Townsend Greenway running along the front of the 13.5-acre property, the tasting room offers access to cycling, running, and nearby mountain biking and hiking trails.

It was the kind of atmosphere Arnett, a former master distiller at Jack Daniel’s, had always envisioned. Part of the package is that Company Distilling is a hometown kind of place—one where other restaurants in the area can showcase their offerings.

We sat down with Arnett to get his take on how Company Distilling continues to be a leader in the ever-growing craft spirit landscape.

Tell us a little about your brand.
Company Distilling is based in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. When it comes to making spirits, our know-how runs deep. An unlikely assemblage of friends with a history of building distilleries, crafting exceptional spirits and bringing people together.

When you pour a glass of Company, you’re experiencing something new. But one sip and you’ll know it’s not our first go around.

What kind of conversations are you having with your customers today?
We talk about place, story, and do our best to educate the customer about our products, cocktails and the science behind how we make our products. There is a thirst for knowledge about the process of making beer and whiskey, but also how our company came to be and community offerings outside of our distillery locations.

Without our communities, our distillery and brewery are just manufacturing buildings.

Give us a snapshot of today’s craft spirits market from your perspective.
We’re definitely in the golden age of craft distilling. There are a lot smaller brands that have mature whiskey. Our team tends to define craft in relation to quality and character, rather than size.

At Company Distilling, we’ve developed traditional production processes that will allow us to produce quality spirits at a high volume, but not compromise the quality.

What’s likely to happen next?
Our hope is that we see more diverse ownership and locations for both breweries and distilleries. Creating a sense of place and unique and diverse stories would be a huge asset to the industries.

What trends are defining the space?
Lifestyle brands are coming online and offering multiple entertainment options in addition to spirits products.

What’s your story from a brand perspective?
This is between friends—an uncommon bond between friends. Our founders got to know each other through the Tennessee Distillers Guild and worked on legislation to uncork the distilling industry in Tennessee. There are things you share with the world. And there are things you share with the people you hold closest.

They are not always big things; they can be as simple as a knowing glance or a peal of laughter. But they are the best things, because you wouldn’t trade them for the world. We know you can’t just go out and create these things. But we have done our very best to bottle them. Spirits well worth gathering over. Meticulously crafted for the best of friends.

Our team comes together with a diverse set of skills and expertise, from a variety of industries. None of us is in this for “a chance at success.” We’ve already achieved success as individuals. We’re in this because it is fuel for our friendship and it will be fun. And that fun will fuel thousands of other friendships. Not to mention the communities we call home. We’ll achieve success, but it’s not about success. We will profit, but it is not about profit. It is about good people. End of story.

Walk us through your branding strategy.
We don’t know you and we won’t pretend to. But if you uncork a bottle of Company, then there’s something between us. Something real. Not a “product,” or an empty promise dressed up with a label and a barcode. Something we both believed in enough to be our most valuable resource. We have poured time into making it perfect. And you have given it some of the time that matters most—time set aside to enjoy life.

Company Distilling is about gathering people together. We’ve done our very best to create products that are well worth gathering around. It’s not about us, it’s about you. As a brand, we want you to come spend time with us. And if you are not with us in person, bring Company when you’re with the people you hold closest. We’ll be glad to make your acquaintance.

What’s the biggest issue today related to the marketing/sales side of the craft business?
With spirits, there are a few shortcuts being taken in order to get into the industry, which ultimately devalues the quality and could turn a consumer away from American whiskies. As a business, we have faced supply chain variability and lack of predictability. We have to buy a year’s supply of everything and then store it. Unfortunately, this will price out smaller distilleries.

The biggest challenge we face from the brewing side is determining how to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

What’s the secret to creating a branding story that consumers can buy into?
Authenticity and a kick ass story. As a brand, we are not making anything up or putting on a front. We spend time creating opportunities to tell our truth. We are transparent. What you see is what you get with our team. Ultimately, we want you to be a part of our journey. You’ll often find our founders in the tasting rooms interacting with our customers, telling our story and gathering around with you.

What’s the thing every craft beer brand should do in the way of marketing?
First is to make good quality beer. Beyond that, it is about understanding their specific situation, the why, their community and making an emotional connection with their customer. Being true to their passion and not producing just to fill a shelf or tap space.

What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities moving ahead?
Our story and products are unlike anything else on the market. The runway is long for our team and brand if we continue to innovate and produce good quality spirits.

What’s the biggest item on your to-do list right now?
Opening our first newly constructed distillery in Townsend, Tennessee.

Sitting down with…Company Distilling’s Jeff Arnett

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Working with creative and innovative co-workers and getting to meet new people from around the world at our distilleries every day.

What was the best advice you ever received?
Don’t react to each instance, track the pattern.

What’s the best thing a customer ever said to you?
Thank you for making us feel like we are part of your team.

What is your favorite brand story?
Ours. Not that we are self-centered, but our brand story is why I said yes to being a part of Company. I believe in what we are doing as a team, brand, and the opportunities we will create in the future for our communities and the people that reside within them. Here’s to time well spent.