Denny Potter: Marking his return to Maker's

04 April, 2019

Denny Potter gives Shay Waterworth the lowdown on how he finally got his dream job as master distiller at Maker’s Mark


DENNY POTTER was recently appointed master distiller at Maker’s Mark having previously worked for Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Cruzon Rum.... and Maker’s Mark.

“I’d say 80% of the time I’ll get called Danny Porter, so when I hear someone call me Harry Potter I think: ‘That’s fantastic, at least it’s not Danny Porter.’ But if I’m being mischievous I can blame it on that guy.”

During his first stint with the company, Potter worked his way up the ranks and when the late Dave Pickerell left his role as master distiller, he was named assistant master distiller.

However things changed dramatically for Potter in 2009 when Jim Beam bought Maker’s Mark and Cruzan rum in the British Virgin Islands, and Beam wanted someone to help run the show in the Caribbean.

“I thought it was incredible to move to the Caribbean, but as soon as I told my wife she started crying – not happy tears, she was happy here [Bardstown, Kentucky]. But it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and doing the company a favour like that I believe has led me to where I am today.”

Potter spent three years living in St Croix and he now misses the island lifestyle. “I’ve got a picture in my office of a little island we used to go to at the weekends – it was paradise.

“The culture is family driven and friendly because it’s such a small island and it meant we could go for cocktails and our kids could be there playing with their friends on the beach at the same time.

“They asked me to be general manager for three years at Cruzan, so me and my family moved to St Croix with the idea that I’d come back to Maker’s Mark after.” But he didn’t go back. Jim Beam moved him to its Frankfort distillery in Kentucky to look after more rum and some vodka and told him he’d be there for a year. “About six months in, having to drive nearly an hour and a half each way every day, they said they needed me for two more years.”

But as luck would have it, Potter got a phone call from Heaven Hill a week later asking him to be plant manager and run the distillery. He took the role straight away and, after a year, took on the role of master distiller – the first non-Beam family member to fill the post, which is one of the biggest master distiller jobs in the US.

In 2016 Potter became vice president of operations as well as master distiller. “It was a huge deal and I absolutely loved working there, especially being so close with the Shapira family [Heaven Hill’s owners] and the scope of my responsibility.

“But I think the role of master distiller is just for marketing. We have 20 people at Maker’s who are master distillers in terms of their technical understanding and hands-on approach, but having the title of master distiller gives you weight and it means people listen to me.”

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.