In a Shot: Holidays brought me bottles of each expression from Jack Daniels and so I tasted them in a sitting.
In lieu of Spring's arrival and Summer's coming, I am drawn to sweeter drinks such as Bourbon and Tennessee whiskies as they are ideal companions to BBQ. While setting up a bourbon tasting in the future I have aquired bottles of each Jack Daniel's expression and decided to do a mini tasting. Now we all know that Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Sour Mash Tennesse Whiskey may not be the greatest whiskey in the world, but there was a time and place I think in everyone's life where it had some form of an impact. (Please post your stories if you got a good one!) It was one of the very first whiskey's I ever tried straight and to this day I still keep some around the house when I just want a little effect and not so much experience (Not to mention it's my mother in law's favorite so I keep some around for her as well).
Jack Daniel's is the United State's oldest registered distillery and the site is a protected historical landmark. Along side George Dickel, all of Jack Daniel's spirits are Tennessee whiskies and not Bourbons as defined by Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Part 5, Section 5.22. They differenciate in many subtle circumstances such as Bourbon by law requires it's mash of grains to be 51% corn where as Tennessee whiskies need 51% of one dominant grain but does not have to be corn (Though No. 7 uses 80% corn then 8% rye and 12% malted barley). But the major government protected difference is the Lincoln County Process where the whiskey is filtered through a column of charcoal chips before going into the casks for aging. The process is named for Lincoln County, Tennessee, which was the location of Daniel's distillery at the time of its establishment; subsequent redrawing of county lines means that neither distillery currently using the process is located in the county for which the process is named for. On top of that, the area where both distilleries are located are legally dry counties meaning that you are not allowed to drink alcohol on site or in the local area. Now that's just CRAZY!
There is a lot of mystery behind this particular label due to certain courthouse records burning history of the real Jack Daniel. It is said he was born in September 1850 and died 1911 from an infection that apparantly originated in his toe after kicking his safe one early work day because he forgot his combination. Everything is shrowded in allegations with such myths as the label is now black to represent mourning of Jack Daniel's death. The No. 7 label brand has the most stories one being the whiskey we know now was Jack's 7th trial batch of the final product. They said when he wrote his J's looked like 7's. He was a ladies man and had 7 girlfriends. His height was peaked at 5"2 maybe it was the combination of those numbers and others just say he chose it because 7 is a lucky number. That is why they stopped entering Jack Daniel's into competitions after they got their 7th medal all of which are pictured with date and location on the bottle. The bottle itself is allegedly square because Jack thought of himself as a square shooter so his bottle should be square too. What is fact is that Jack Daniel's is one of the world's largest selling brand names in the liqour business with a net income of $121,700,000 a year.
There are 4 major labels under the JD flag. The green label was a one year mature version of the Old No. 7 brand where the barrels tended to be on the lower floors and more toward the center of the warehouse where the whiskey matured more slowly. Proprieter Lem Motlow post prohibition couldn't wait for his whiskey to mature to ideal age and needed product to distribute in the mean time, thus the green label was made. It was removed from the market in the late 90's. Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Black Label is the staple and 4 year old aged standard for the Jack Daniel's brand. Gentlemen Jack is the same stuff you get from the Black Label except after maturing they give it a second run through the Lincoln County Process. It's supposed to make it more smoother and intesensify the smokey and sweet characheristics found in toasted maple charcoal chips. The final expression is the Jack Daniel's Single Barrel. Fewer than 1 in 100 barrels are chosen to be considered for the Single Barrel and those barrels are kept in the highest reaches of the barrel houses called the "Angel's Roost". Here there are the most impacting and extreme seasonal changes that greatly affect the wood absorbing flavors into the whiskey. It also causes the barrel to mature at a much faster rate. The Single Barrel is also aged two more years than the other expressions. The ending result is a spirit far superior in nose, palate and finish in every aspect. It's the only Jack Daniel's I would recommend to a whiskey drinker.
Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Black Label - Caramel induced bronze colored. underdeveloped and slightly harsh, aspartame/sucralose sweet with corn and butter being a front liner, maple and a touch of ginger/bannana bread sweetend by Equal then a smokey finish.
Gentlemen Jack - Looks and moves slightly lighter than the No. 7 and wow, incredibly more mellow in comparison. The corn and butter subside substantially in this dram with honey and gingerbread rising with instant cappuccino. Fruits and oak are present particularly orange at the way more creamy finish.
Jack Daniel's Single Barrel - Much deeper amber colored spirit. The single barrel sample I got had tobacco, mint and was slightly astringent. The palate was jam packed with vanilla and smokey, woody oak. I also noticed hints of milk chocolate, baked apples and caramel. It finishes like it's 94 proof, hot with a dry yet fairly sweet outro.
What can I say, Jack Daniel's has it's place in America and that will probably never change. It is a cloyingly sweet whiskey, one that will cause headaches in the morning if too much is consumed. All the more reason to drink this stuff during a BBQ cause that will suck up the ethanol and the sweetness will actually benefit against spicy, tangy BBQ. There is enough heat and complexity to make me want to return to that Single Barrel though and the Gentlemen Jack, being far more elegant in body and creamier in finish does go a long way in contrast to that old fashioned "Original" No. 7 black label. I'm willing to even say that may become the bottle I just have lying around the house when I just want a little whiskey.