What irritates me about whisky? Well, since you didn’t ask … gosh, where to begin? Over-efficiency, cussed blinkeredness to terroir’s possibilities, excessive veneration of single casks. That’d do for starters. Oh, then there’s the ridiculous price of inaugural launches, the ridiculous price of non-inaugural launches, the ridiculous price of … well, you get the picture. Not to mention the slurry of grubby PR regurgitation, condescension from professionals and uncritical doggerel slopped across the internet like putrid alphabetti spaghetti.
Yes, my goblet of grievance runneth over. Like most of my Malt colleagues I don’t so much have a bee in my bonnet as a hive on my head. I dare say there are those who reckon our grindstone pile’s a little axe heavy. I dare say Malt itself is on some peoples’ irritation list. And I dare say they’re right.
But I’ll tell you what doesn’t bother me: whether or not Jack Daniel’s could count as bourbon.
Yes, whilst family-sized sections of the American whiskey cognoscenti tear digital chunks out of each other over The Least Important Question Of Our Age, my slumbers go entirely undisturbed by whether the dripping of spirit through maplewood charcoal disqualifies whiskey from entry into bourbon club. Or indeed elevates bourbon into Tennessee whiskey club, depending on your allegiances. And I say this as former writer for The British Bourbon Society, and the only member of Malt who really gives a damn about the stuff America makes. (Besides Alexandra, but she’s too young to drink any of it.)
The only question more fatuous, by my disgruntled mileage, is whether it’s spelt whiskey or whisky. And between them, JD and George Dickel manage to nail both superfluous briefs.
For those lucky enough to have dodged this torpid squabble, the position runs thus. Team bourbon argue that JD and friends don’t qualify because the dripping of spirit through the charred Maplewood (the so-called Lincoln County Process (LCP)) counts – they attest – as adding flavour. Across the border from Kentucky, the insistence is that this process improves the bourbon, and their press releases spaff out a load of woolly guff about the “added smoothness of Tennessee Whiskey”. (Or “whisky”, if you’re George Dickel. F.F.Sake.)
Now whilst you will comb the bourbon rulebook in vain for anything prohibiting LCP whiskies from classing themselves as bourbon, Jack Daniels have spent years and years and dollars and dollars on not being classed as bourbon; on being classed as Tennessee. And, since they’ve won all their lawsuits, they’re perfectly entitled to be.
Which ought to be the cut-and-dried end of it, but people being the archivist obsessives they are, the “yes, but could it …” question rolls on and on, and will doubtless keep on rolling until judgement day and trumpet sound. At which point God will be asked to mediate, and whatever answer he supplies will be vociferously disputed by about 50% of souls present. In God is our trust, as long as he agrees with us etc.
My beef, I suppose (I am never without beef one way or another) is that all this time spent in fisticuffs over something so utterly banal could be better used taking to task the legitimate issues enshrouding the industry.
But I bet you any money it won’t.
By this point I suspect you’re thoroughly bored and confused – the inevitable outcome of the bourbon vs Tennessee Whiskey ‘debate’. So let’s swiftly retire to the glass of the day, which is That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Tennessee Bourbon Whisky Batch #1 14 year old. Given that both their spelling and wording would send dear old Jack into paroxysms, I think it’s a fair bet to say that this will have been sourced from The Artist Formerly Known As George Dickel.
There’s a lot of mature George being independently bottled under not-very-anonymous labels recently, and much of it is of wildly varying quality. But in Boutique-y we trust, so let’s boldly go. Jason didn’t taste this whiskey with me, incidentally, but knowing his fondness for all things Americana, I’ve kindly pre-empted and included his notes too.
Tennessee Bourbon Whisky #1 14 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)
On the nose: By bourbon standards this is rather polished and aristocratic. Meaty, with initially-upfront oak that peels back into big tropical fruit. Dried apricot. Mango. Grilled banana. (I only found out what that smells like this summer!) Caramel slathered over the top, alongside a smoky herbaceousness – rosemary.
In the mouth: The palate moves into deeper and more familiar octaves. Huge brown sugar, caramel and toffee popcorn. Smatter of vanilla. Cedarwood, char, more smoked herbs and a little cigar. Nope, make that a lot of cigar as it finishes. The wood roars and blusters, but flavours and sweetness keep it on an even keel.
It’s good. And, for a cask strength, 14 year old bourbon, it’s pretty well-priced too, relative rates of evaporation being what they are.
My weird cavil is that Boutique-y have gone a bit classic. I’ve become used to their American picks taking me in undiscovered, weird and wonderful directions; bottlings like their glorious St George’s Rye and the excellent F.E.W bourbon, smoked over cherrywood. Whereas if I was to describe an archetypal 14 year old Tennessee bourbon, I’d probably land more or less on this.
But, as I say, that’s an extremely wonkish quibble. It’s another hit, really, and you probably ought to buy it.
Bonus notes, definitely from Jason
Colour: Vanilla. If vanilla was brown.
On the nose: Vanilla, vanilla, and more vanilla. Madagascan vanilla, and Walls Ice Cream (vanilla flavoured). A whiff of coffee bean creeps in at… no… wait… it’s vanilla.
In the mouth: Like the inside of a chocolate vanilla crème, with the chocolate bit thrown away, or never made in the first place. Wave upon wave of V.Planifolia follow, like massed ranks of Uruk Hai, if Uruk Hai were derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla. Finally, Robert Matthew Van Winkle comes along. Who is, of course, the person the Van Winkle whiskey range is named after.
The land of the free and the home of the brave is Scotland.