A cooling off period is usually a good idea.
I first learned of this concept when I was planning travel around various wine regions. Over the years I have been lucky enough to visit Napa, Sonoma, and the Barossa Valley in the course of my travels. Each has its individual charms, but they share in common their picturesque landscapes, which cannot help but have an overwhelming effect on even the most hard-nosed cynics among us.
Thus, I took to heart some advice I once read, which cautioned against buying wine in wine country. Yes, it may feel like you’re drinking The Greatest Wine You Have Ever Tasted, but let’s think about the environmental factors influencing your perception: you’re probably on vacation. You’re probably relaxed. You’re probably with someone you love, or someone you can at least tolerate. You’re being served alcohol – sometimes overserved alcohol – and I’ve already mentioned the scenery.
The wise counsellor therefore advised: instead of making an impulse purchase on the spot, wait until you get home. If, after a week, you still can’t stop thinking about that wine, then go ahead and buy a case, secure in the knowledge that the aforementioned cooling off period has let you make a more clear-eyed assessment. I’ve done it both ways – with a lamentable bottle of sparkling Shiraz schlepped all the way back from Australia representing a momentary lapse of discipline – and I’m here to tell you that cooling off is the way to go.
The same is true of whiskey, and I’m not just referring to the romance of being inside the rickhouse. We’re passionate creatures with brains running 50,000-year-old software telling us to run with the herd, to follow the crowd. We can’t help but be swayed by the zeitgeist and – knowing about this weakness of ours – the whiskey industry has schemed to provide us a steady stream of shiny new things to chase.
One of the luxuries of the way we do things at Malt is that time, as Einstein observed, is an illusion. I can usually count on one hand the number of reviews we publish each year that are scheduled with any sensitivity to their release date. Most of what you’ll read about here is because a writer found time to write about a whiskey they tasted, regardless of whether that corresponded to anyone else’s idea of when the “ideal” time to release a review might have been, for whatever purposes they might have been trying to achieve.
The subject of today’s review is one of those coveted whiskies, but it will be evaluated after a cooling off period of a year following its initial release. I’d love to tell you that this was because of my superlative mental discipline and Solomon-like foresight, but actually someone sent me a sample of this and I lost track of it. Hopefully this will resolve itself serendipitously, and I’ll be able to evaluate this without being subconsciously influenced by the fanfare with which this was greeted last year (and there was quite a bit of it).
We’re talking about a Jack Daniel’s limited edition, of the type that I have enjoyed, very much enjoyed, and not-at-all-enjoyed. Specifically, it’s the 2021 release of the Single Barrel Coy Hill High Proof. Jack’s own site for the release states:
“This year’s annual special release celebrates Coy Hill which is the highest-elevated rolling hill on the Jack Daniel Distillery property… bottled in its purest form straight from the barrel, with minimal filtration, uncut at 137.4 – 148.3 proof.”
This particular barrel is from barrel house #8 and clocks in at 139.7 proof, slightly below the 142.8 proof average of the top and bottom of the aforementioned range. To be clear: we’re still talking about exceedingly strong whiskey. I’ll be making mental comparisons between this and other American whiskeys of comparable potency, such as Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and George T. Stagg, to name but two personal favorites.
Suggested retail price was $70. As you’ll no doubt be surprised and alarmed to hear, every bottle was spoken for at this price. I have seen them offered at ten times SRP; fortunately I was spared the financial pain of procuring this at a premium as this sample was a gift from Keith, who has my sincere thanks for his generosity.
Jack Daniels Single Barrel Coy Hill High Proof – Review
Color: Dark chestnut with ruby port glints.
On the nose: Sumptuous, intense notes of Bananas Foster jump from the glass and immediately announce this whiskey’s presence. I almost have to take a physical step back, away from the glass, and return after a few moments. This is rich to an almost indescribable degree. I get sticky and sweet notes of chocolate fudge syrup, candied fruit, brandied fruit, you name it. This is like a dessert cart in a glass. Lest this sound one-dimensional, some patience and attentive sniffing lets me pick out meaty notes of BBQ chicken breast, almond extract, a smoky and spicy whiff of Hungarian paprika, and an exotic, fecund greenness that evokes a mental image of a jungle. I can’t wait to get a taste of this.
In the mouth: As it first touches the tongue, this explodes with a juicy note of cherries that blooms to fill the front of the mouth. Turning effervescent in texture, this takes on a different cast, more like cherry soda. The high proof is most noticeable as this reaches the middle of the mouth; it actually constricts the flavor development at this point slightly, which is a peril of whiskey this potent. Still, I am able to tease out flavors of hazelnuts and a vinegar-y hot sauce, as well as a surprisingly deft floral touch of rosewater. The finish commences with a tart flavor and texture that puckers the mouth slightly, before this turns toward an austere mineralic note and a radiant heat. As the finish lingers, that chocolate fudge note from the nose reemerges in stealthy form, creeping across the gums and around the teeth.
High proof bourbon (oops) lovers will adore this. I actually added a few drops of water to see if taming the whiskey allowed for any more flavor development, but I found that actually worked to the whiskey’s disadvantage. It’s nearly perfect as it is, with each flavor allowed a starring role in turn, without any moderation.
Reflecting on this a bit, I realized that what’s not here is as noteworthy as what is. High proof whiskeys can often suffer from unduly dominant woody notes, making the experience of tasting them more like licking the inside of a barrel or sucking on a stave. Fortunately, there’s none of that tannic extraction or bitter astringency here. The flavors imparted by the wood seem mostly to add some kicks of spice to what is otherwise a delectably sweet and fruity experience.
I love this. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s about as good as could be reasonably hoped for, particularly for the SRP. I understand why this was so sought after and – without endorsing opportunistic price gouging – I’ll concede that I understand why people feel compelled to pay up in order to secure a bottle of this. In light of all this, I am awarding a rare but well-deserved score close to the top of our range.
Image courtesy of Jack Daniel’s.