Jack is back.
My dalliance with a dram of Jack Daniel’s Heritage Barrel late last year gave me hope that something more interesting could come out of this Tennessee Whiskey monolith. To test that hypothesis, I will today be delving into three iterations of the brand’s Single Barrel label, including a barrel proof version about which I am particularly excited.
I didn’t choose these expressions. Rather, they were chosen for me as parts of a three-half-bottle set that I found in the liquor aisle of Target. In the spectrum of Jack Daniel’s entire range, these Single Barrels sit somewhere around the midpoint. Above them, you’ve got the No. 27 Gold Tennessee Whiskey ($100 for 750 ml) and the Sinatra Select (a staggering $120, albeit for 1L). Below, there is the Master Distiller Series ($33) and Gentleman Jack (roughly $30), before you reach Old No. 7, better known to the universe as simply “Jack.”
As before, the hope will be that the funky individuality of a single barrel (especially in its undiluted state) will impart some notable character to a brand that we’ve become accustomed to tasting in its homogenized form. Yet, on embarking on this review, I feared that already I said what I had to say about J.D.
To rectify this ennui, I opened the topic up to the Twitter whiskey community. While the site gets no shortage of (oft deserved) stick for being the home of the most hateful, miserable people on the internet, I was surprised by the constructive engagement and insightful questions in response to this prompt. Among others, our readers wondered: What is Jack Daniel’s brand strategy? Where do the single barrel expressions fit within that strategy? What about the rye: what is the mash bill? How does this differ from Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7? Any plans to release a barrel proof version of the single barrel rye? There were also some more general questions, including: why does Tennessee Whiskey not carry the designation “straight?”
Unfortunately, despite some cursory initial engagement on the thread, Jack Daniel’s has yet to respond to my repeated attempts to contact them. If they seek to find an audience for these whiskeys beyond the hardcore Jack Daniel’s diehards, it would behove them to engage with the more – shall we say – “detail-oriented” whiskey fans and provide the type of information volunteered readily by others.
I’ll leave space here, in case Jack Daniel’s ever decides to engage. In the meantime, let’s allow the liquid in the bottles to speak for itself!
A wonkish program note, if I may: as you’ll be aware, MALT’s scoring bands are price sensitive.
I paid $57 for this set of 3x 375 ml, though MSRP for the box is closer to $100. Adjusting the full bottle prices for each of these yields a “fair market value” of $87.50. I’ll be using the prevailing retail prices for my scoring adjustment on each of these three.
The first is the Single Barrel Select expression. The accompanying materials note that this expression culls barrels from the upper floors of Jack Daniel’s barrel houses. This particular bottle is barrel #19-03565 from rick R-20, bottled on 5/31/2019. It is bottled at 47%; indicative retail price for this is close to $50 (for a full bottle) in my area.
NB: Jason previously got this on special at the supermarket back in 2017, awarding it a bang average score. Interestingly, his photo of that bottle indicates a bottling strength of 45%; this seems to be a rare example of an expression that has actually increased in potency as time has gone on.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select – Review
Color: Golden brown
On the nose: Creamy and sweet aromas dominate at first. This is softly airy, with skim milk and cotton candy scents. As I bury my nose in the glass, there’s a rounder and richer note that emerges, like buttered popcorn accented by spicy woody notes. A little time in the glass allows this to evolve an all-around fruited woodiness, with hints of Christmas spice and incense ash.
In the mouth: Thin and watery as this enters the mouth. Toward the middle of the tongue, this evolves a pleasant nutty-woodiness, albeit with little in the way of individually distinguished favors. All of the sudden, there’s the fishy creaminess of clam chowder. A bit of mocha here, a big dollop of banana cream, and some tannic woodiness make appearances as this nears the finish, which is once again notable for its pale and dilute mouthfeel.
Like so many examples, this has an intriguing nose yet fails to deliver in the mouth. It’s hard to nail the perfect proof, and I’d so much rather be left to add water to suit my tastes rather than have it imposed upon me as part of a standardization process. No flaws here, and plenty of promise based on the aromatic profile, but it comes up a bit short in the flavor department.
Next, we’ve got something different in the Single Barrel Rye. From a component of the Tennessee Rye expression that was introduced in 2017, this features a mash bill of 70% rye. This single barrel, #19-03061 from rick R-19, was bottled on 5/3/2019 at 47% ABV. Though I have not seen this bottling on the shelves of my local shops, store picks of this format fetch $60, a premium to the $22 retail price for the mass-market Tennessee Rye.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye – Review
Color: Rusty rose
On the nose: Wow, this is like no rye I have ever nosed. There’s a fruity burst of watermelon at the height of summer, as well as grape Bubbilicious chewing gum. A rich aroma of butterscotch transitions to subtle touch of crème de menthe, a bit of underripe navel orange, and freshly-peeled plantains. Some stalky green notes are the only tell that this is, in fact, a rye.
In the mouth: Creamy mouthfeel on the entrance, which transitions to a tangy metallic purity as this moves across the tongue. This sits between the front and middle of the mouth for a while, with a texture that pulls apart and apart like taffy. It perks up with some sweet and oily off-bitter flavors of citrus zest at midpalate, before fading into a finish distinguished only by the mildest woodiness and a whisper of caramel.
Weirdly gorgeous on the nose, this is like if some exotic precious gem had magically metamorphosed into aromatic form. It’s enticing and wondrous to nose. There’s good texture in the front of the mouth, but this ends similarly to the Single Barrel Select in that it fades rather abruptly. Still enough intrigue here to warrant an above-average score.
Finally, we now have the Barrel Proof version of the Single Barrel label. These are bottled in a range from 62.5% to 70% ABV, with this particular incarnation coming in just below the midpoint at 64.45%. It is barrel #19-03536 from rick R-10, bottled on 5/29/2019. Retail price at my local is $65.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Barrel Proof– Review
Color: Burnished penny
On the nose: Creamy and sweetly corny topnote, with a subtle caramelized banana nuance. There are a number of understated aromas swirling around here: a sprig of dill, a hint of Marshmallow Fluff. The same intense sniffing yields a swirling mixture of acetone and Meyer lemon. Suddenly, out of nowhere, comes the acidic whiff of a grape tomato. Towards the end of the inhalation, the pickle note evident in the Heritage Barrel starts to emerge.
In the mouth: This starts with a vanilla-saturated oakiness, blossoming delightfully into a tart cherry flavor on the middle of the tongue. The whiskey then turns on a dime, with firm metallic and mineral flavors abruptly marking the transition to the finish. There’s a nip of kola nut before this lapses into a rounded woodiness that persists down the back of the throat. Once again, more of the prickly brine of pickle barrel becomes apparent in the form of a lightly astringent bitterness.
The most three dimensional of the bunch, this has both breadth of aromatic appeal on the nose and intense depth through the palate. There are a few slightly off notes here and there, but overall this is solid whiskey and benefits immensely from being bottled at full strength. Of the trio, this is the one I’d be most likely to reach for again on a store shelf.
I liked the Barrel Proof version the best of these three. That might just be my preference for unaltered, full-strength whiskey speaking. Each one of them has its merits, though, and all are an improvement over the standard Jack Daniel’s. As with all single barrel expressions, it bears noting that a wider-than-normal degree of deviation should be expected. What you pluck off the store shelf may not correspond to these notes. Of course, it could be worse… but also may be better, which would make it pretty good indeed. If nothing else, these inject a degree of randomness and a little excitement into the brand, which is no little feat!