“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.