Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Jimmy Bedford Memory.

Jimmy Bedford, retired Jack Daniel's master distiller, died Friday at his Lynchburg, Tennessee, home. I wrote about it yesterday.

Since then, I've been thinking about Jimmy and reading what others have written. Here are some of my more personal memories.

The first time I met Jimmy Bedford I didn't really meet him. It was a few years ago at WhiskeyFest Chicago. I went to the seminar Jimmy was conducting. The audience at those things is several hundred people and they've all been drinking. Jimmy was a perfectly good presenter but he reminded me of Baker, Parker, and Craig Beam. They are all, in those situations, a bit more taciturn than the occasion warrants.

Later that evening, after WhiskeyFest was over, a friend and I went to the Hyatt's BIG Bar for a nightcap. I didn't notice him at first, but so had Jimmy. He was sitting, by himself, a few stools east of us.

I didn't speak to him because I didn't know him at the time. We went about our business and left him to his. After a few minutes, several people came over and spoke to him. He was friendly and they were obviously fans from WhiskeyFest. (They were carrying their goody bags.) After they left, he finished his drink and left as well.

After WhiskeyFest concludes for the evening, there are always lots of after-party opportunities, especially for master distillers who are, after all, the rock stars of the whiskey world. My impression was that all Jimmy wanted to do was have a quiet drink in a crowded bar before going upstairs to sleep.

Subsequently, I got to spend time with Jimmy in Lynchburg. I had dinner with he and his wife at their home, and when I subsequently saw him at events we at least exchanged greetings. My impression of him never changed. He liked to make whiskey and knew he was good at it. He grew up around it, it was the only decent job in the county, and he never thought about doing anything else.

The Jack Daniel's image works in part because so many people down there are really like that. He did the promotional stuff because when you have a job and the boss asks you to do something, you do it, you do it as well as you can, and you don't make a big fuss about it. Those really were his values. That's who he really was.

I'm not saying he didn't enjoy all of the travel and attention, but he probably would have been just as happy dividing his time between his distillery and his farm, in the town where he grew up.

I haven't heard anything about Jimmy's death other than what was in the news obituary distributed by Associated Press, which was essentially the Brown Forman press release. We may never know more. I don't know if he had any history of heart disease, or anything else about his health. I know he was slim and looked very fit.

It's not important to know, necessarily. It's just a shame.

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