Saturday, March 7, 2015
Master Distiller John Lunn Out at George Dickel
Diageo has announced the imminent departure of George Dickel Master Distiller John Lunn for "an exciting opportunity outside the company." At 45, Lunn is one of the youngest master distillers for a major producer. He was with the company for eleven years, succeeding Master Distiller Dave Backus.
Although the official announcement comes just a week before Lunn's last day (March 13), the company tipped its hand with its recent, lavish twelve-page magazine insert for Dickel, which does not show Lunn and only mentions him once, in the final paragraph along with a previously-unknown Dickel distiller, Allisa Henley. That may be a coincidence, but normally one would expect a producer to feature its master distiller in such a document.
Henley seemingly is not the heir apparent, as Diageo says it has "begun the process of finding a replacement for John and this will be subject of a future announcement," according to the official notice. In addition to a replacement for Lunn, Diageo still needs a distiller for its new Bulleit Distillery in Shelby County, Kentucky, which is supposed to go into production late next year.
In related news, it was just two weeks ago that Fred Minnick reported that Marianne Barnes, 28, is leaving her position as Master Taster and Associate Process Research Engineer at Brown-Forman to become Master Distiller at the new micro-distillery going in at the Old Taylor site. Barnes departure is a shock because she has been the subject of an intense Brown-Forman-generated publicity campaign for the last year or so, based on her role in the Old Forester 'craft' reboot. Brown-Forman also encouraged speculation that she was on track to succeed Chris Morris, 57, as Master Distiller.
In recent years, micros have snapped up several major producer retired master distillers as employees or consultants, but this is the first time a prominent up-and-comer has gone over to the small side. Job volatility in the master distiller position may be another hallmark of this new era, although legacies like Eddie Russell at Wild Turkey and Freddie Noe at Jim Beam are likely to stay put.
Looking around the industry, successors appear to be in place at Beam, Turkey, Jack Daniel's, and Heaven Hill. Of those where they are not, only Four Roses has a current master distiller who is past retirement age.
NOTE: An earlier version of this post confused the micro-distillery being built at Old Taylor with the one being built at Old Crow next door. The one at Old Crow has been named Glenn's Creek Distillery and they have announced a grand opening for June 13. Marianne Barnes is, according to Minnick, going to work at the other one, at Old Taylor. The mistake was entirely my fault. I regret the error.