When I revealed my Jack Daniel’s purchase and intent to review it on Malt, the feedback, let’s say, wasn’t overwhelming. Why, seemed to be the general consensus. This reaction got me thinking about the brand itself and how widespread it is. To some whisky enthusiasts its viewed with disdain and prior to this review, I was very much on the fence. Truthfully, it’s a long time since I drank Jack Daniel’s but now having earned my whisky stripes it seemed a fun opportunity to reconnect with some of the very first whiskies I tried and, in some cases, endured.
Firstly, let’s consider just how popular Jack Daniel’s is and its importance for Brown-Forman. Their operating income in 2017 is up 17% mainly due to the growth and expansion of the Jack Daniel’s range. Nowadays the selection of bottles utilising the name includes the flavoured sector (Honey, Fire) and the premium end that features the Single Barrel Select alongside Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel Rye and Single Barrel Double Strength. That’s quite a few to consider for future reviews on Malt, but as a brand, there are few larger in the whiskey or whisky realm. A virtual cash cow this has allowed Brown-Forman to acquire tequila and vodka brands, plus the small matter of GlenDronnach, Glenglassaugh and BenRiach. Success does breed hostility from some quarters.
Then there is the topic of Tennessee whiskey. The American realm is as convoluted and complicated as Scotch itself and arguably more so. The fundamental additional element to bourbon is the Lincoln County Process. This is an extra step prior to the spirit being deposited into casks for maturation. The liquid is filtered through or steeped in charcoal chips. In the case of Jack Daniel’s huge vats are utilised featuring pellets made from charred sugar maple timbers. The principle behind this step is that it removes impurities and helps diminish the characteristic taste of corn that forms 80% of the mash recipe with the remainder being 12% barley and 8% rye. You could also suggest that in its place a certain sweetness and charred nature is introduced.
Before we dip into the whiskey itself it’s worth considering the Single Barrel approach – or single cask in Scotch – with this particular bottling. Prepare yourself as we descend into marketing speak. The American oak barrels for this range are selected from the upper floors of their warehouses as supposedly this offers the ideal conditions for more spirit interaction with the charred wood. Also, fact fans, just 1 out of every 100 barrels in this environment is selected for the Single Barrel Select range. That sounds impressive although given Jack Daniel’s shipped over 12 million cases and counting last year that equates to a few barrels. This release is also bottled at 90 proof, or 45% alcoholic strength to us Europeans. Traditionally until the late 1980’s this was the standard bottling strength for Jack Daniel’s before it was lowered to 80 proof or – yes you’ve guessed it – 40% volume.
All of this extra care and attention comes at a price with the Single Barrel Select costing around £40-£45 depending on where you shop. However, with the pre-Hogmanay discounts kicking off across UK supermarkets, Jack Daniel’s was heavily discounted across its range. Thanks to Tesco’s I managed to pick up this release for a modest £25 which is much more palatable.
Its worth considering the information and lengths Brown-Forman have gone to here. You’re paying extra for that single barrel status and on the neck of the label comes the proof itself. This bottle comes from barrel number 17-4604 that resided in Rick L-6 and was bottled on the 8th January 2017. Given the mass production nature of the Jack Daniel’s plant, it’s great that we’re given these details. Indeed more information would be ideal noting the age for instance, which will be at least 4 years old.
It goes without saying that these tasting notes are specific to this particular barrel but they may give you a sense of what to expect from other releases in this series.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select – review
On the nose: sweet cinnamon with plenty of honey, butter, black tea and treacle. A slight nutty characteristic follows with a creamy toffee at the rear. Returning an element of varnish comes through with nutmeg and of course vanilla. The addition of water unleashed more oiliness, walnuts and wood shavings.
In the mouth: it lacks that roughness you associate with some bourbons. There’s a certain sweeter edge indicative of maple syrup and yes a touch of charcoal. Also resident is more cinnamon and the core American flavours of vanilla and caramel. It does lack the layers we’d hope to see from a single malt but I can appreciate why it’s so popular. Water has a beneficial effect unlocking the oiliness but also sugary sweetness alongside porridge oats and raisins.
Well, let’s deal with the price itself. At £40+ this is far too expensive by about a quarter and this fact shouldn’t be overlooked even with my supermarket steal price. However financial aspects aside this is a perfectly palatable whiskey that may lack any heights – its middle of the road – but remains enjoyable nevertheless.
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