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