Category Archives: Misc American Whiskey

Nowhere to Hide: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel

I was briefly delayed from continuing the Jack Daniel’s sequence with a cold that fired up after the review of the standard offering. The server moves that prompted this vertical run have been going well and are over halfway complete; things are generally coming together. Soon it’ll be time to move from “the hard stuff” to “the good stuff”. Maybe today’s the day?

After a ho-hum Green Label and the black labeled Old #7, I was curious about Single Barrel. The first thing I noticed was that it was barreled at a higher proof – interesting though not entirely an indicator of quality. I’ve had plenty of bogus high-ABV whiskies. I was also curious which Jack would emerge – the earthy, woody and vegetal green label, or #7′s top-note heavy profile. Being a single barrel product, there’s always going to be some variance and it’s entirely possible that some barrels are drastically better than others. Whatever the case, this is a pretty pure experience and hopefully a good indicator of what Jack can be before blending and dilution.

I’m no stranger to single-barrel offerings and know that’s part of the fun of the game. So what is this Jack?

The nose presented itself initially with the familiar corn note and then some grains that weren’t present in the other expressions. The familiar caramel and toffee from #7 showed up, but then the differences began: a little malt (dry malt, e.g. malt powder, versus a sweet beery malt) was faintly evident as well as some vanilla. Well, an interesting enough nose.

The palate was light initially – unsurprising, this is Jack’s thing. Slightly warm initially, no doubt to the higher ABV, with some earthy claylike notes as well as some vanilla. Caramel and toffee showed up shortly thereafter, as did a bit of the elusive marshmallow note I catch on some bourbon. Corn and grain show up later, as do some moderate but definitely not overpowering wood notes. It’s lightly tannic; there’s a definite note of black tea late in the palate.

The finish continues with some black tea and tannins which gives way momentarily to faint cherry notes. The earthiness and marshmallow notes are faintly present, which fades to corn. It slowly dries to the woody notes, and then dries further to a root vegetable sort of bitterness. The finish is nicely lasting.

I can’t lie: this whiskey surprised me. I was expecting a slightly tarted up version of black label and I got absolutely everything I’ve been missing in Jack so far – very close to what I’d imagine a mixing of green label (sans the youth) and the black label to be. I was pretty much ready to write off Jack, but this is far and away the best whiskey I’ve tasted with the Jack Daniel’s name on it. It’s really close to my preferred bourbon profile, just needing a bit more push and a slight dialing down on the sweetness to be a real star in my mind. However, my profile isn’t for everyone and this might be perfect for a lot of people. Honestly, this bottle is what Jack should aspire to as the general profile for Jack Daniel’s – I know I’d buy it if it were.

That said, it’s a single barrel and as much as I liked this, it must mean there are barrels out there that are average to downright crummy. Don’t say you weren’t warned if you buy one and it tastes like Grandma’s perfume and rosewater.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel (Rick L-4, Barrel 11-5368, Bottled 10-19-11) – 47% ABV
Nose: 
Corn and a fair amount of grains as well as a fairly strong wood influence. Caramel, toffee, and just the faintest hint of maltiness (more like dry malt than a sweet beer malt). A touch of vanilla on the top end. 
Palate: 
Light mouthfeel, initially somewhat warm, with a bit of an earthy note and some vanilla, some caramel and toffee, a faint marshmallow kind of note. Heat builds slowly. A little bit of corn and grain later. Some moderate but not hugely substantial wood notes. Lightly tannic; a definite black tea note.
Finish: 
Initially leads with a bit of black tea and tannins. Some faint cherry notes, the earthy and marshmallow notes faintly present early, fading to corn and then drying further to wood. Over time it dries even more and there’s a slight root vegetable note. 
Comment: 
I can’t lie. This is pretty good. Has all of the balance I’ve missed in Jack. However, as a single barrel, who’s to say what the next barrel is like? 
Rating:
B

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!

“The Hard Stuff”: Jack Daniel’s Green Label

Over the last week or so, I’ve been fighting some underperforming servers for my various sites. Scotch & Ice Cream was unfortunately one of the slower-performing sites of the batch. This led to the unfortunate conclusion that a move off the old server was inevitable.

Server moves are my absolute least favorite thing in the world. They’re not difficult, but there’s a ton of t’s to cross, i’s to dot (don’t forget the lowercase j gotcha cases as well), and the inevitable differences that spring up between environments requiring some additional manual tweaks.

Early signs are that things are running better (for now), so hopefully this is the last I write about it while I screw around with fine-tuning performance. However, this is as I noted, my least favorite thing to do in the world, and I recalled some of those startup evenings where people would realize a ton of work lay ahead of them and they would say they needed a drink. “Beer?” would be the inevitable response.

“No,” would come the reply, “it’s time to break out the hard stuff.”

For some reason, Jack Daniel’s has been one of those whiskeys that is synonymous with “the hard stuff” – likely a byproduct of their marketing. It’s a bit ironic; Jack is now bottled at a sad 40% ABV and doesn’t have as much to justify its image as the Hell’s Angel of American whiskey.

Hell's Angel or Heck's Cherub?

But that’s neither here nor there. This seems like a good opportunity over the next few days to review some of the expressions of Jack Daniel’s. Today we’re starting out with the Green Label offering. The Jack Daniel’s site says Green label is “a lighter, less mature whiskey with a lighter color and character.” The barrels are from a portion of the warehouse that is more central and thus, we must assume, more temperature stable – they say the whiskey matures slower here.

The nose on Green Label is pretty light and straightforward – it’s got some lightly woody notes and some corn sweetness. At the edges of it, there are toffee and molasses notes. The molasses is pretty light. On the palate, it’s initially light but develops a bit more body. It’s a pretty sweet whiskey but not syrupy or stuck in caramel hell – just a good, clean sweet corn flavor. Honestly, it reminds me of sweet corn from the late summer more than any other whiskey I’ve had. The toffee and molasses are present; there’s a slightly sour and slightly earthy funk on the palate that gives it a bit of dimension. It finishes quickly with wood, more sweetness and a touch of the earthy molasses note.

Truthfully, the earthiness on this makes it stand out from a host of inexpensive bourbons. I keep coming back to molasses because it has that rich, almost savory character but there’s a bit of a vegetal kick to it. It also has moments where it’s not dissimilar to Marmite. However, this is a counterpoint and not a main stage note, so it’s at the edges. It definitely adds a degree of dimension to this inexpensive whiskey. It’s got a mark of younger wood and younger whiskey, no question about it, but it’s not bad at all. This would be a totally fine mixer, it’s inoffensive on its own and that’s not bad at all. There’s nothing here that makes this a must-try, but I wouldn’t send this back or opt for beer if it was all that was available (which I can’t say of Rebel Yell).

At a glance:

Jack Daniel’s Green Label, 40% ABV
Nose: 
Lightly woody, with some corn sweetness. Some toffee and a faint note of molasses. 
Palate: 
Light on the palate, initially sweet with some wood to it. It again has that toffee and molasses note to it but there’s a slightly sour and earthy undertone to it. 
Finish: 
Very fleeting. Sweetness, wood, and a bit of molasses. 
Comment: 
The earthiness in conjunction with the wood makes this stand out from the crowd of inexpensive whiskeys. It’s young wood and a young whiskey – make no mistake – but it’s not bad at all. It’d be great to mix, it’s inoffensive on its own, and that’s not bad. It doesn’t have anything to vault it into the “worth trying” arena for me, but it’s not something to avoid (like Rebel Yell). 
Rating:
C+