“Jack Daniel’s kicked my ass again last night” – Eric Church
We’ve all been there, pal. Jokes aside, though: for all its cachet as a cultural touchstone and an international icon of America, Jack Daniel’s remains hidden in plain sight from a not-insubstantial portion of the whiskey drinking public, in the sense of warranting serious consideration.
The ubiquity of the Old No. 7 black label is perhaps the biggest turnoff to those whiskey lovers who are looking for something new and different, not to mention rare and limited. As a consequence, Jack elicits an oblivious indifference from those who are otherwise assiduously attentive to all things concerning whiskey.
I know, because I was myself in this category until relatively recently. Fortunately, a series of run-ins forced me to reconsider my casual dismissal of Lynchburg’s finest. The Single Barrel offerings (particularly the Barrel Proof expression) were positively surprising in their high quality for their respective prices, with the weakest example not falling below an average score. I also found plenty to like about the 2019 edition of the Heritage Barrel, and I’ve been looking to increase my exposure to the Jack range ever since.
Today’s return to the house of Daniel sits at the intersection of two of my longstanding passions: whiskey and music. Based on what I’ve seen and read, I’m not alone in pairing these pursuits. We previously heard from Ryan Alves about how Tyler Childers accompanied the Justins’ House of Bourbon team’s selection of its prodigious single barrel of New Riff. Judging by the results, I’m planning on blasting “Whitehouse Road” at any future picks I may be involved in.
The synergy between tipples and tunes is not limited to those of us enjoying them, however. A survey of crossovers between musicians and distilleries yielded the following (by no means exhaustive) list of mashups: Alice in Chains (FEW Distillery), Bob Dylan (Heaven’s Door), Darius Rucker (Backstage Whiskey), Drake (Virginia Black), Flaming Lips (FEW Distillery), Metallica (Blackened), Motörhead (Mackmyra), Pearl Jam (Heritage Distilling), The Pogues (West Cork Distillers), The Rolling Stones (Suntory), Scorpions (Mackmyra), and Slipknot (Cedar Ridge).
The diversity of genres on display (both in terms of music and whiskey) should serve as evidence that, whether you’re into hip hop or headbanging, you can find a drink to accompany your jams. Being as Jack Daniel’s is Tennessee whiskey, however, the logical place to look for a musical combination would be nearby Nashville, a.k.a. “Music City.”
Appropriately, therefore, Jack Daniel’s selected country music star Eric Church for this single barrel collaboration. The fit was a natural one given that Mr. Church has name-checked Jack in his songs, particularly the colorful one quoted at the beginning of this review. But other than slapping his moniker on the attractive black-and-gold label for this bottle, what was Eric Church’s actual involvement with the production, selection, and bottling of this whiskey?
Jack Daniel’s own site for the release indicates that “Eric Church’s Single Barrel Select edition is hand-selected by Master Distiller Jeff Arnett for a one-of-a-kind whiskey based on Eric’s taste.” However, the press release conflicts slightly in saying that “[t]he whiskey is from barrels personally selected by Church” but also that “Master Distiller Jeff Arnett assisted Church in the selection of barrels from the top floor of a warehouse on Coy Hill at the distillery.”
Regardless of the level of involvement of Mr. Church, this appears to be a small batch rather than a true single barrel. This is supported by what I’ve been able to read in the trade press, which notes that 5,000 9-liter cases (or 60,000 bottles) were produced, well in excess of what a single 53-gallon barrel would yield.
Some other specifics: SRP for this was $60 (program note: this was a sample generously provided by Will, and he has my thanks for that), compared with $50 for the standard Single Barrel Select and closer to the Barrel Proof Single Barrel ($65). However, this is bottled at 94 proof (47% ABV), in-line with the Single Barrel.
To recap: this is a Single Barrel Select that is not from a single barrel but is instead a “limited edition” of 60,000(!) bottles. Paying a 20% premium does not get you a higher ABV, but it does get you a country singer’s name on the label. In case you can’t tell, I’m embarking on this review with slightly more than my normal dose of skepticism. Let’s see how it goes:
Jack Daniel’s Eric Church Single Barrel Select – Review
Color: Golden orangey-brown.
On the nose: Overwhelmingly creamy to start. The Jack Daniels’s signature note of banana is here, but in a ripe and sweet form. Bananas Foster? Tokyo Banana? Regardless, there’s an accent of mint, some stern limestone, and the faintest sulfurous whiff of struck match. An airily sweet and smoky note of marshmallows toasted over the campfire emerges after some time in the glass. Aromatically, there’s a thickness on this that verges on meaty, but the richness of the dessert-like flavors keeps this tethered on the sweeter end of the spectrum.
In the mouth: Starts with a thinly woody flavor and a dilute mouthfeel. This doesn’t bloom much toward the middle of the palate, leaving instead a vaguely tart flavor skulking across the tongue and top of the mouth. The campfire notes reemerge in the form of a slightly acrid and stale smokiness that sits uncomfortably in the back of the mouth. There’s a lingering nuance of chocolate fudge as the sole appealing aspect of the flavor profile. Otherwise, this tastes like a whiskey to be endured rather than enjoyed.
If Eric Church was personally involved in the selection of barrels for this release, he should stick to strumming and singing. If not, I’m forced to conclude that Brown-Forman saw the opportunity to shift some remainder barrels to folks who care more about a familiar name on the bottle’s label rather than the quality of whiskey contained therein. This tastes bad.
Even with all the caveats that are necessarily appended to the single barrel format, I am more likely to recommend that you grab a random Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select or Single Barrel Barrel Proof rather than plump for this Eric Church Single Barrel. Jack Daniel’s can indeed produce some kick-ass whiskey, but this ain’t it.
Photograph kindly provided by Jack Daniel’s.
But…. look at the fancy black bottle! And the eagle! It would be un-American not to like this and pay 20% more!
But in all seriousness, I do wonder how they can get away with calling it a single barrel. I guess just many separate single barrels (I’m sure without any specifics on the label)? Makes you wonder what they do with the last little bit of a barrel that doesn’t fill a whole bottle. I can’t imagine they’d dump it, but if it gets rolled over into the next bottle then it’d be like Eagle Rare which had to drop its “single barrel” on the label, if memory serves. But maybe they’re allowed a certain level of wiggle room with that in the label requirements law?
Regardless, I do still need to delve into their other single barrel and barrel proof expressions. Skål!
Anders, that’s a good point, and one I had not considered: it’s not clear whether this is a set of single barrels bottled individually, or a batching of all the single barrels selected by Eric Church or whoever. In the former case, they could be better or worse than this one, but the issues pertaining to premium prices remain. The TTB actually has no set definition of “Single Barrel,” so there’s nothing (legally) stopping Brown-Forman from misusing the term. Cheers as always for the constructive engagement. Skål!
I just want to give you my praise for generally (or always?) reviewing bottles that you have purchased or samples that you have been given by other whisky enthusiasts.
I see so many reviews of single barrel releases that are based on samples sent by the distillery (like the current Jack Daniel’s single barrel rye). And I can’t help thinking: Is this barrel really representative of the bottle a punter like me is likely to buy in a shop. This is a corollary to the honey barrels of single barrel releases that win awards at competitions.
You have probably already dissected this issue in a previous review!
Apple W, thank you for your recognition. As Malt has grown in prominence and our American whiskey coverage has expanded I have started to receive more samples (and, in certain cases, entire bottles) directly from distilleries. Usually these are from smaller craft distilleries, and these are always disclosed in the reviews. I don’t know that we can control for honey barrels, but I view it as similar to the way that barrels or batches or even bottles bought at retail can have some noticeable variance. There’s always the risk that what I taste will vary from what you taste. C’est la vie.
However, the vast majority of what I review has either been purchased directly by me or shared with me by someone who purchased it. This is important for two reasons. First, we don’t depend on freebies. if I were never sent another free sample from a distillery, it wouldn’t change much about how we do things here. As a consequence, we don’t have to hand out good scores in order maintain friendships or to keep the train rolling. The second point: our scoring bands are price-sensitive. Even if a whiskey is free (to me), I score it as though I went out and paid SRP out of my own pocket. I’m a consumer and our readers are consumers. If this site is to continue to be useful to consumers, our scores must provide a guide to indicate if a given whiskey is good value for money.
All that to say: I don’t mind people questioning my taste or my judgment, but I do my best to ensure they’ll never have any reason to question my integrity. Cheers!
I ordered it for Fathers Day. Didn’t show up so I disputed transaction. Got a refund today of $90.00. Us. Went to reorder it cause I really wanted it for hubby.
$844 us. Hmmm !!
Vicki, the usual warnings about “buyer beware” apply doubly so (if not more) when purchasing whiskey online. If you’d like to get your husband something he’ll enjoy without getting ripped off, can I suggest the excellent Single Barrel or Single Barrel Barrel Proof offerings from Jack Daniel’s? Best of luck!