Memphis’ Peabody Ducks Retire to Jack Daniel's

Friday, December 20, 2013, Vol. 128, No. 248

LYNCHBURG – They are being called the luckiest ducks in the world -- retiring from one world-famous Tennessee landmark to another.

For the first time in 80 years, the ambassadors of The Peabody Memphis hotel will be enjoying their retirement at a location far from their traditional west Tennessee farm -- at the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg.

It's like an early Christmas present for the distillery, with the ducks joining about 15 that already live on the grounds.

Those taking the distillery tour on Wednesday got to witness an historic event, as the five North American Mallards walked the red and black carpet down to their new home -- lovingly shown the way by Peabody Duckmaster Anthony Petrina, with Master Distiller Jeff Arnett looking on.

No Jack, no ducks

When first introduced to their new home, the single drake and four hens from Memphis tried paddling upstream to the entrance of the cave spring, the water source for the world-famous whiskey.

Eventually, the five made their way down to the pond to join the other wild ducks that live on the property.

Lynchburg's most famous product and the Peabody in Memphis have an intertwined history, and according to Petrina, if there was no Jack Daniel's, there would be no Peabody Ducks.

Tradition began

Petrina explained that in the 1930s, the hotel's general manager Frank Scutt and a friend were hunting in Arkansas and returned with their live duck decoys, which were legal at the time, as well as a bottle of Jack.

One thing led to another, and instead of taking the ducks all the way back to the farm, Scutt snuck back and let them loose in the lobby of the hotel.

"He expected this would be a prank on the staff," Petrina said, with the waterfowl flying all over and causing trouble, but none of that happened. Instead, they stayed in the fountain, behaved themselves and were being enjoyed by guests the next morning.

"Scutt ran over and began apologizing," Petrina said, but the customers said they loved the ducks and should remain guests at the hotel -- starting an 80-year tradition.

Chosen few

Until this year, following training by Petrina, the Mallards would spend three months of duty at the hotel, and then retire to the farm and Peabody Duck Retirement Island, "where they have a grand old time, and most fly off to the wild shortly after."

However, Wednesday was the first time ever that the birds have been retired anywhere but that Memphis location, and knowing how they will be treated, Petrina couldn't think of a better place for them.

"Every duck is fortunate to be chosen as one of the few, elite Peabody Ducks, but no other team of ducks have ever been able to retire out to the Jack Daniel Distillery, so these are the luckiest ducks in the entire world," Petrina said.

Important role

Ducks have also been a part of the history of the distillery, Arnett said, "for as long as we can remember." With grains being delivered every day, they play an important role at the facility by cleaning up whatever rye, barley or corn that hits the ground.

With no hunting allowed, a pond full of cave spring water to swim in, and all they can eat, it is truly a duck sanctuary, the master distiller said.

Ducks are also part of the Jack Daniel story, appearing in print ads for at least the past 50 years. The bird is the company's mascot, and when each of the distillery's official tasters reach their first anniversary, they receive a wooden duck statue, signifying their status, Arnett said.

Arnett also explained the ducks have served as quality control over the years -- saying if the split grain isn't good enough for the ducks, "it's not good enough to make Jack Daniel's either.

"There isn't any self-respecting duck that wouldn't want to retire here," Arnett said.

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