...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Two rounds with Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey

I may lose some readers with this one, but here I go.

I do not, Do Not, DO NOT understand why anyone drinks Jack Daniel's Old No. 7.  I am unable to comprehend how it became the second most exported whisk(e)y in the world.  The best explanation I've heard so far is when Scotch and Ice Cream suggested that it's all marketing and culture.  So maybe it's like McDonalds and Bud Light: the name, the image, the familiarity influence consumers so they disregard the actual quality and experience of their purchase.  Is that it?  Because otherwise, I'm missing something.

Old No. 7 Black Label may have a "MANLY" marketing image, but how is it a "MANLY" whiskey?  It's not difficult or burly or challenging.  It just tastes bad.  In fact, since it's kind of weak and watered down in its current state, almost any American whiskey on the shelf could prove to be a more challenging ride.

And, at $15-$25, it's not nearly the cheapest thing on the shelf, so it can't be THE low-cost working man's whiskey.  As a mixer, it's barely better than vodka because it needs to be smothered with a ton of sugar in order to hide its flavor.  The same thing goes with Jack Daniel's sauces and marinades.  The reason why they taste so good is because they taste nothing like Old No. 7.  They taste like brown sugar.

Okay, so maybe, just maybe, people want to get plastered.  So they buy bottles of Jack for shots or to live up to the (sadly) romantic image of their favorite rocker drinking straight from the bottle.  Well that's a FAIL too.  Nothing tastes worse blasting back up than Old No. 7 vomit, aside from maybe Cuervo & Tabasco vomit.
(Note to self: You really have to stop it with the Vomit Taste Offs.)

I spent a bit of time with JD#7 in the late '90s -- until one day I realized it tasted awful -- so I'm coming to this with considerable sense memory.  I'm coming to this as someone who has had many motivations for buying booze.  But when it comes to Old No. 7, there are "manlier" drinks, there are cheaper drinks, there are more blue-collared drinks, there are better mixers, and there are better shots.

So, let's try some Old No. 7!

JACK DANIEL'S OLD No. 7 BLACK LABEL (bottled late 1990s)

Distillery: Jack Daniel's
Ownership: Brown-Forman Corporation
Region: Lynchburg, TN
Type: Tennessee Whiskey
Age: four years (I think)
Mashbill: 80% corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye
Bottled: late 1990s
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (different than current ABV)

Color - Apple juice meets corn syrup
Nose - Leads with varnish and very sweet corn syrup. Follows with Italian salad dressing, dry cheese, and vinegar.
Palate - Goes the quick road from overly sweet to overly bitter.  Corn syrup and sweet cream does a bee line to ammonia.  Per the Lincoln County Process this was filtered through maple charcoal, but it tastes like it was passed through steel wool, Brillo pads, and burnt hair.
Finish - Granulated sugar sprinkled conservatively over a vat of acetate, varnish, deck stain, and ammonia.

Nose - Immediately there's tree bark, bleached paper, and horseradish. Then more of the varnish and corn syrup.
Palate - Creamier. Starts with brown sugar then goes bitter.
Finish - Blessedly short. Ammonia.

First thing to note:  My generous sample was taken from a bottle that was purchased in the late '90s.  And, yeah, the ABV was 43% rather than 40%.  I wish I had a proper bottle shot, but I don't know where the bottle went. (Long story, not very interesting.)

Secondly, I have to admit that this version of JD was particularly foul.  The current version is softer with more Nutrasweet corn, but it still has that steel-wool-brillo-pad-burnt-hair note.  There are folks who find a banana note in the current JD, but my nose reads it as banana-candy-meets-paint-fumes.

Thirdly, you may think I'm completely biased against all Jack Daniel's products and am thus a sh***y American.  At least the former isn't true.



Distillery: Jack Daniel's
Ownership: Brown-Forman Corporation
Region: Lynchburg, TN
Type: Tennessee Whiskey
Age: four years (I think)
Mashbill: 80% corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

This tasting was done from the above mini, a gift from my buddy Shannon.  While no barrel number was listed on the mini, the 750mL (and 700mL) bottles do have barrel numbers on them.  But note: the Single Barrel Selects released in Europe have a 45% ABV.

Per the official website, "Single Barrel is matured in the highest reaches of our barrelhouse, where the dramatic changes in temperature cause its color and taste to deepen further."  Let's see how this maturation plays out.

Color - Reddish gold
Nose - At first: hazelnuts and dirty socks and nail varnish.  That steel-wool-brillo-pad-burnt-hair note shows up here.  But give it 15-20 minutes of air and... White bread toast, Cracker Jacks, burnt peppercorns, hay, vanilla extract, and fudgy rum.
Palate - Peanut brittle, sugary grains, vanilla and caramel (almost dulce de leche).  It's sweet, hot, and oaky, but in balanced moderation compared to No. 7.
Finish - Lots of corn whiskey.  There's some boiled vegetables at the start, but with time that note vanishes.  Then there's cayenne pepper, tree bark, vanilla, and caramel.

Because of the aforementioned "bias", I opened the bottle anticipating disaster.  But it's not terrible.  In fact, the Single Barrel Select is very drinkable and balanced once it's had some oxygen.  I like the nutty note as well as the straightforward vanilla and caramel.  Keep in mind, though, different barrels will have different characteristics.  That can work out well ...... or not, thus the charm of single barrel releases.

Again, once it's aired out, the Single Barrel leaves #7 far far behind, which is a shame.  It would be great if one of America's famous exports displayed more skill and craft, something with more strength and stamina, something that displays the better part of the American character.

JACK DANIEL'S OLD No. 7 BLACK LABEL (bottled late 1990s)
Availability - Somewhere out there. Current version is EVERYWHERE.
Pricing - Current version: $15-$25
Rating - 60    (late '90s sample only)

Availability - Many liquor retailers worldwide
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 80    (needs to breathe, though!)