A Jack of All Trades: Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 (Black Label)

The quick run through the Jack Daniel’s expressions continues today with one of, if not the best selling whisky in the world right now: Jack Daniel’s.

It’s hard to even know where to begin. Jack is so iconic, so huge in stature, and in many ways part of the American cultural landscape that it’s almost unassailable. In many ways, it’s as American as apple pie and baseball (or Coca-Cola and McDonald’s if you want to keep it in the food realm). Even people who aren’t hopeless whiskey nerds like myself may have a bottle of Jack as a part of their bar stock.

Jack is at once wholesome and rebellious. I’ve seen a bottle of Jack at home when I go to visit. It’s a staple of college tailgates. It’s also practically the corporate sponsor of the Sunset Strip – take a drive down and you’ll see the banners every 500 feet as you pass the Viper Room, the Key Club and the Roxy, all fixtures of the Sunset Strip scene. Jack Daniel’s is the both backyard barbecue and the abyss-skirting oblivion courted by countless rock stars throughout history.

LIke any good zillion-seller, Jack is cross-marketed to the Nth degree. T-shirts bear the label design; playing cards have a Jack Daniel’s brand on them; steak and barbecue sauces bear the name. Bobby Flay works Jack into his recipes. It’s ubiquitous and nothing less.

The question is, does this zillion-seller suffer from the inevitable decline of corporate profit interest, or is it built on something real? Is Keith Richards or a benevolent fraternity alum making sure the under-21s get a little taste of something they can’t buy on their own at a football game?

The only way is to pour some in a glass and find out what we can.

The nose has some moderate wood influence up front – aged out to a more normal level where the wood does not have a young or intensely green character to it. There’s a faintly piney note to it, mingled with toffee and caramel but somewhat obscured with a slightly spirity top note.

The palate is quite light but tending ever so slightly toward a syrupy character. It’s got extremely mild wood influence evident. It brings along caramel and vanilla and a touch of corn sweetness. The finish is rather quick as well – slightly warming, with some vanilla and a touch of caramel holding on. After a while you get a slightly tart apple note lingering at the top.

Overall, it’s not bad. For my taste, it feels like it needs something to anchor it – perhaps the earthy notes of Green Label in moderation would anchor it? It’s likely some of that body is lost through the charcoal filtration that is part of the storied Lincoln County Process, and it’s a shame. The top end of this has a lot going on that’s quite interesting.

It’s surprising how light it is though – for a whiskey that is more Harley than Honda, it’s actually rather soft. If there was a little more heft to it this could be safely into B-range, but as it is, it’s just a bit lopsidedly light. It ends up being more … And Justice For All than Master of Puppets.

It feels cliched to bag on top-sellers — I had no problem saying Johnnie Walker Blue was overrated; yet somehow it feels like a cheap shot to say that Jack just doesn’t do it for me. It’s such an ever-present, fully pervasive part of society that anything less than rote praise or highly equivocating criticism feels like you’re being ungrateful and knocking your heritage.

The fact is, I like the idea of Jack Daniel’s – rock music, rebellion, and yet paradoxically family and friends – more than I do the actual product. I don’t recall ever being crazy about Jack, but I’ve never disliked it. I’ll never turn my back on it and I’ll probably have some on hand because it’s a can’t-fail whiskey to have for mixing or drinking. Ultimately I think it’s because Jack has been part of some of my favorite events, even if it was not particularly amazing on its own. I guess there’s something to be said for being the social lubricant for a thousand informal get-togethers, parties, decompression sessions, post-work complain-a-thons, tailgates and so on. As for the whiskey, it can be mixed, it can be drunk straight, it can be used for baking and for cooking. Taste-wise, unfortunately, it’s a jack of all trades and a master of none.

At a glance:

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 (Black Label) 40% ABV
N: 
Some corn sweetness and moderate wood influence. Very faintly piney. Faint top notes of toffee and caramel but somewhat spirity for the ABV. 
P: 
Light but slightly syrupy mouthfeel initially. Some mild wood notes to it. Caramel, vanilla, a trace of corn sweetness. 
F: 
Quite fast but slightly warming. Vanilla hangs around with a bit of caramel, a touch of fruit like apples late in the finish. 
Comment:
It always surprises me how light Jack is. There’s some nice stuff happening on the top end but there’s not a lot to anchor it. If there was just a little more this would slide up just a bit, but it’s just a little shy of being into the B range for me. Again, not bad, totally drinkable, a fine mixer and very versatile. But a jack of all trades is a master of none…
Rating:
C+

The run through the Jack Daniel’s expressions will continue in a few more days!

24 thoughts on “A Jack of All Trades: Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 (Black Label)”

  1. Thanks for writing a fair and articulate review of JD black. You do an excellent job of putting it in it’s larger cultural context. Personally there are many other cheap bourbons and ryesI would choose over it (Elijah Craig 12, Buffalo Trace, Rittenhouse Rye, 4 Roses yeller… etc…)

    Great review.

    1. Thanks much, Josh. Honestly, I think of the inexpensive, mass-market tier, Evan Williams (B-) remains my favorite. I still mean to give Jim Beam a full, formal taste at some point but the Beam stuff just doesn’t agree with my palate. 

      There are definitely better choices to be made. I’ve had a growing accumulation of various bottles of Jack and this seemed like an opportune time to vault through them real quickly.

  2. “The fact is, I like the idea of Jack Daniel’s – rock music, rebellion, and yet paradoxically family and friends – more than I do the actual product.”

    And there in lies the success of Jack.  Personally, I can’t stand any JD product and think it’s hilarious that they’ve managed to endow an overly sweet,  80 proof whiskey with the aura of rebellion and biker gangs.   Now, get yourself some Dickel 12 and be done with Jack!

    1. I’m going to give the whole line its fair shake – I’m either done with it and it’s an OK mixer to have on hand, or I find something I like. (Probably the former, but we’ll see). 

      The rebellion & Jack is a pretty funny dichotomy. “I’ll do whatever, I have no fear. Oh, but could you make sure to filter the living shit out of my whiskey?”

      1. When Sku was complaining that nothing exciting comes out of Brown-Forman, I presented as exhibit A. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010, and exhibit B. Jack Daniels Green.  He doesn’t seem to get moved by the spirit as easily as I do, but my bet to you Tim that JD Green will come on top still stands.  Waiting with bated breath! 

        1. We shall see! I may be delayed a couple days on finishing up the run, my cold has kicked up nicely and now my morning coffee is indistinguishable from my eggs in taste and just slightly different on the nose. With any luck it’ll be gone shortly and I’ll be back onto tasting.

          Maybe this is a good time to get rid of the Rebel Yell. 

  3. OK, I have to critique your reference to Metallica albums.  Master of Puppets is probably my all time favorite, but And Justice for All kicks some serious ass.  MoP is more in-your-face, but AJfA has some seriously great ones, that I wouldn’t call “light” at all.  You do have to pay more attention to them though.  Trust me, those two albums plus Ride the Lightning and Death Magnetic (surprisingly) on my ipod got me through raising a bad-napping baby (i.e. screaming in crib instead of sleeping).

    Otherwise, good review as usual ;-)

    1. The reference was intended to draw an analogy between the production and overall balance of the albums and the whiskeys. 

      Justice, while (undeniably) a great one, is thin and really lacking in the low end except for the sub-100Hz that accompanied Lars’ kicks (which every idiot producer in metal then omitted so it just sounded like Gregory Hines on meth). Puppets is definitely anchored more in the low-end than Justice. It was that thin vs thicker thing that I was trying to draw attention to. JW Green is definitely more made up with earthy notes by comparison to #7, which is relatively lighter in a textural/taste sense by comparison.Both albums are long-standing favorites and for decades I couldn’t have told you which I liked better of the two (It’s definitely Puppets). But they, more than any other Metallica album pair really feel like two sides of the same band. I personally preferred Kill ‘Em All to Lightning - rawer and angry. Death Magnetic just falls into that post-Black album abyss for me, unfortunately. But hey, maybe the analogy sucked and I over-intellectualized something on a review of Jack. That’s weak. ;) 

      1. Holy cow, I guess I get it after you explain it that way, but I’m no musician – I just listen to it :-)

        Ditto those are my two favorite albums.  The only way I can tell you my favorite is Puppets is the raw data: I’ve listened to it more.  Except for one or two songs that I really liked I could never get into Kill ‘em all.  I hear you on the post-Black album abyss.  Sometimes even the Black album falls into that for me.  There’s a few good ones on Load and Re-Load, but I found that all the songs I like in those are done better on the Symphony and Metallica album, so I just listen to that.  Then, out of the blue I really took a liking to Death Magnetic.  I really like Unforgiven III (I don’t even remember II), and there’s an instrumental song on there that kicks it back to the good ole’ days.

        1. Kill Em All - I listened to that album until my speakers nearly gave out in high school. It’s definitely very early 80s and low-budget, and there are some things that seem off to the Puppets/Justice ear (Lars’ heavy use of ride cymbal comes to mind), not to mention the vocal delivery and production which just lacks any sort of comfort. Sounds very labored-over but abandoned before its time. 
          However, the instrumental breaks? So great. Four Horsemen just kills it. Perfect metal gallop on guitar, great, super cutting and fairly bright tones on the guitar, etc. It’s one of those ones where you have to get past the aesthetic. 

          Black album is such a weird one. On one hand, half the album is banal in the extreme – once I get to Of Wolf and Man I’m pretty much done with the album. On the other hand, it is the absolute pinnacle of big analog studio rock productions. Everything is clean, clear, but absolutely massive. So that first half is stupid big and clear and pristine, but really heavy and powerful. The stories of production on that one are eye-opening… ahh, when the music industry could sustain that sort of budget. Great songs on that first half. 

          I’ve give Death Magnetic another listen.. I’ll have to do it on speakers because it absolutely hurts me on phones. My last recollection was that they could have shaved a good 30 seconds off the top of every track – seemed like they were suffering from 70s classic rock extended intro-itis… it was definitely an improvement after the prior abortion, but given what I’ve heard about the latest album, I have to wonder if it wasn’t Rick Rubin wrestling goodness out… 

          1. Yes Four Horsemen does rock – that’s pretty much the only one I listen to from that album!

            That’s a funny comment about Death Magnetic – it DOES hurt your ears with phones, but maybe that’s why I like it.  Most of my listening came when I was trying to drown out the sound of screaming baby… I was serious about that comment ;-)  Even still, I find it annoying because with those albums on my shuffle, I have to click the volume down every time a Death Magnetic song comes on.  Tracks 4, 7, and 9 are prob my favorites.

          2. I tried listening to it again today but I wasn’t really in the mood.  I seriously listened to nothing besides Metallica for over a year, but now that my son isn’t screaming in the background anymore (usually) I have been taking a break and listening to quieter stuff.  Mumford and Sons is the album du jour presently.

      2. As for Kill ‘em all, I was thinking about it and I prefer the subtle, trapped anger a la Master of Puppets (think Sanitarium, Disposable Heroes etc).  Ride the Lightening is closer to that style.

  4. OK, I have to critique your reference to Metallica albums.  Master of Puppets is probably my all time favorite, but And Justice for All kicks some serious ass.  MoP is more in-your-face, but AJfA has some seriously great ones, that I wouldn’t call “light” at all.  You do have to pay more attention to them though.  Trust me, those two albums plus Ride the Lightning and Death Magnetic (surprisingly) on my ipod got me through raising a bad-napping baby (i.e. screaming in crib instead of sleeping).

    Otherwise, good review as usual ;-)

  5. OK, I have to critique your reference to Metallica albums.  Master of Puppets is probably my all time favorite, but And Justice for All kicks some serious ass.  MoP is more in-your-face, but AJfA has some seriously great ones, that I wouldn’t call “light” at all.  You do have to pay more attention to them though.  Trust me, those two albums plus Ride the Lightning and Death Magnetic (surprisingly) on my ipod got me through raising a bad-napping baby (i.e. screaming in crib instead of sleeping).

    Otherwise, good review as usual ;-)

  6. I’m no whiskey nerd – I just know what I like and JD does it for me. I really don’t venture out from it all that much either. That sad, I do enjoy reading your reviews of everything!

      1. I’ve never tried Green. Gentleman is OK. I like Single Barrel a lot. Never tried Dickel, but am certainly willing to! I had some Bullit a while ago and that was pretty good as well. I also drink Tullamore Dew. I enjoyed your Evan review as well; it’s been a while since I had any but I don’t turn my back on it.

        I’ve never had JD with anything dark (ie Cola). I have it straight, with ice, with water, with 7up, or with Mt. Dew. The Dew thing is curious; Mt Dew was originally made as a mixer with moonshine. I mix it fairly strong so it isn’t overly sweet. Most kind of look at it strangely; but I like it :)

        I went to a Whiskey 101 class in Chicago a year or 18 months ago. It was pretty cool and informative; it allowed me to better articulate why I don’t care for Scotch (really don’t like the peat flavor) or Canadian Whisky (blended just doesn’t taste right to me).

        It’s funny to see JD characterized as kind of weak. My experience is limited; but drinking whiskey in general is generally looked upon as a bit “hard core.” I will sometimes get comments for drinking it straight for example; folks almost don’t believe that I really do like it that way and I’m not trying to impress anyone.

        One last funny story. I really enjoy Single Barrel JD and a scoop of ice cream at the conclusion of a nice meal. I was at a relatively nice restaurant in Chicago and asked for “a scoop of ice cream and JD Single Barrel.” The guy brought me back a glass with a scoop of ice cream in it and JD Single Barrel poured over the top. I had a JD float. When I saw the title of your blog I had to laugh! I had to wonder if I was ignorant of a unique manner of imbibing whiskey? :P

        1. Evan is a worthwhile pickup. I’d really consigned it to the junk heap and it ended up being kind of a bad decision. (Conversely, a lot of beloved beers are now undrinkable – and I don’t even mean the we-drank-em-because-they-were-cheap ones). I haven’t had Tullamore Dew in eons. 

          Never knew that about the Dew. 

          As far as scotch – there’s a massive universe beyond peat. If you’ve been in a heavy bourbon mode, the barley-only mashbill can be a bit strange to the tongue, likewise for the lack of heavy new-wood influence. I’d be curious to hear what they had you guys taste. Canadian is generally uninteresting to me but I’m sure at some point we’ll do a run through it here. 

          The Jack dichotomy of image versus reality is an interesting one. I think you hit on it with the drinking brown spirits straight thing – it definitely gets some interesting reactions sometimes and maybe it’s just that basic act that is what seems so hardcore and rebellious. As you and most other fans of the stuff know, it’s actually not that extreme. (And when you try stuff like Stagg or Weller or Handy which are barreled at eye-watering proof and have them straight.. or have some unfiltered bourbons… you will see the origin of the “light” comment). 

          I couldn’t agree more with the whiskey + ice cream combo. Absolutely killer, which is why this blog has the name. I need to do some more whiskey + ice cream experiments but I haven’t wanted to have any ice cream lately (weather is changing too much to really want to have a bunch of ice cream on hand). 

          The whiskey float though… may be something to try. 

          1.  I think it was Evan, Jameson, Dewars White, and Canadian Mist. I’ll have to try Dickel. Is that unfiltered?

          2. Oh man. Oh man. Don’t judge scotch off of Dewar’s White. It’s a blend (and one I find barely drinkable). That to me is only good if you really like to take the edge off a Riesling by liberally fuming up your glass with a fart. We’ve gotta find you something decent at some point so you can make a more fairly informed decision. :) 

            Dickel isn’t unfiltered as far as I know. Unfiltereds that you could find with ease would be Booker’s or newer bottlings of Wild Turkey Rare Breed (of the two I’d opt for WTRB). They’ll be quite a bit more bold than Jack which may or may not be to your taste.  If not, hey, at least you’ve see what is out there on the extremes and you know you’ve got what you love.

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