“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” – Jack Torrance, The Shining
In the last few years, Jack Daniel’s has been anything but dull. Since I marveled at the ubiquity of the brand, I’ve noticed Jack getting both plaudits from high-profile whiskey tastemakers as well as grassroots support from Jane and John Bourbonfan. What accounts for this meaningful improvement in perception?
Jack is doing a lot of things right. The Single Barrel expressions – particularly the Barrel Proof Single Barrel bottling – remain widely available and offer very strong value for the money. The Barrel Proof occasionally pops up as a store pick, adding to the intrigue. A string of excellent Limited Edition bottlings – even if they weren’t all winners – have generally delivered a superior experience at a price tag well below competing offerings from other distilleries.
Adding to that resume of fan favorite formats, today we’ll be considering a Jack presented with the Bottled-in-Bond designation. Initially announced in August 2018 as a travel retail exclusive, interest was piqued this summer when it was revealed that the TTB had approved the label for a “Bonded” expression.
Though not yet available domestically, Jack is joining the Bottled-in-Bond party, itself a crowded one already. Bottled-in-Bond bourbons from Heaven Hill (at both the high and low end), Barton (from their 1792 and Very Old Barton labels), and Jim Beam are reliable go-tos for value-conscious bourbon drinkers looking for a guarantee of minimum age and potency. Henry McKenna, when it can still be located for a reasonable price, is also in the club. While not officially Bottled-in-Bond, there is a 100 proof expression from Old Forester as well as 101 proof expressions from Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey that I mentally lump into the same category in terms of quality for the price.
All that to say: this Jack has its work cut out for it. Some of those whiskeys are foundational bourbons with the weight of decades behind them; others simply represent outlandishly good drinking for an uncommonly low price. In the midst of ambient bourbon hysteria, these bottles are beloved by their increasingly paranoid fans, who worry (not unjustifiably) that whiskey this good for a price this compelling can’t stick around for very long.
Thus, the arrival of a new Bottled-in-Bond expression from an established distillery with generally good vibes ought to be cheered by the American whiskey drinking public… that is, if it is any good. So, is it? There’s only one way to find out. Before I take the plunge, though, some specifics:
This is Bottled-in-Bond, meaning it comes to us at the statutory 100 proof (50% ABV). It is the product of one distilling season at one distillery (DSP-TENN-1), and is matured for at least four years (this bottle carries no age statement).
SRP on release was $38 for a 1 liter bottle. On my recent trip through the Cancun airport duty free I noticed bottles for $40, with a -20% discount, bringing my total closer to $32. I’ll use $40 as a benchmark, though, as this is where I have most frequently seen bottles priced. As noted prior, this is a 1 liter bottle, implying an adjusted price of $30 for the 750 ml equivalent, which will be my basis for scoring.
Jack Daniel’s Bottled-in-Bond – Review
Color: Muddled golden-brown.
On the nose: Very fruity, in a rich and inviting way. There’s the hallmark Jack Daniel’s banana note (in the form of banana cream pie), but also some very ripe Bing cherry notes. These latter scents are married to aromas of cigar box, pencil shavings, and old leather in a manner reminiscent of some of the older and lower-proof Wild Turkey offerings. More sniffing yields diverse and interesting whiffs of pink pencil eraser, BBQ brisket, and a slightly musty funkiness suggesting fully mature white Burgundy wine. There’s a faraway note of key lime and lemongrass in here, to add a bit of exoticism. In all, plenty of intriguing scents that entice me to take my first sip.
In the mouth: Starts with a youthful kiss of corn, though there is more flavor development as this ascends the tongue. I get wheat toast and some roasty notes of mocha and freshly-ground coffee beans. In the middle of the mouth, the cherry notes have a resurgence, albeit in a less ripe, more tart form. This turns austere, with the cherry note taking on a mineralic cast as the whiskey approaches the finish. There’s a sprinkling of assorted herbs, a vague woodiness, and a drying stoniness that puckers the mouth long after the final swallow.
The nose is a revelation, full of promises on which the palate falls a bit short of delivery. That’s not to say this is bad; on the contrary, this is a lot of whiskey for the equivalent of $30. It’s toward the top of the aforementioned Bottled-in-Bond and/or 100-ish proof class. If the U.S. retail version bears a strong resemblance to this travel retail exclusive, I foresee it becoming a mainstay of my home bar, as well as those of many other whiskey fans. To reflect all of this, I’m awarding a score in solidly positive territory.
While I wouldn’t advocate for the immediate booking of an international flight in order to procure a bottle, this is certainly a no-brainer buy if you’re traveling abroad. My sincere hope is that this becomes readily available at the $30 mark here in the States. At that price it is a versatile daily sipper, solid cocktail component, and potentially a conversation piece, as I can see this handily beating much more expensive whiskey in a blind tasting. Jack Daniel’s continues to earn the goodwill it is belatedly receiving, and I see no reversal of that trend on the back of this bottle.