Jack Daniels Whiskey Tasting
We’re all familiar with the popular and well-established whiskey giant Jack Daniels, but you may not be aware of their range of lesser-known exclusive labels, such as Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel Select, Single Barrel Barrel Proof and Sinatra Select, which tap into the new enthusiasm and demand for craft spirits.
In recent years, interest in whiskey and other spirits among Chicagoans has grown alongside the developing industry of local independent craft distilleries such as Chicago Distilling Company, North Shore Distillery and CH Distillery, which use locally grown fruits and grains. These new distilleries are providing consumers with more range, producing premium whiskeys with higher proofs than your average American whiskey, and cultivating interest in and demand for these select products.
CUSP Magazine met with the Midwest brand ambassadors for Jack Daniels, Armando Zapata and Megan Noviski, to taste and to learn more about these rarer labels. Whiskey aficionado Zapata began the intimate and informative whiskey tasting by telling us about how whiskey has its roots in Ireland and Scotland. It is believed that Irish monks, experimenting with distilling in large pots, invented whiskey around 700 A.D., calling it “Uisce Beatha” (pronounced ish-ca ba-ha) from the native Irish language, meaning “Water of Life.” The word whiskey originated here as an anglicized version of “Uisce Beatha.” Later, Irish and Scottish settlers would bring their distilling methods to the U.S.
American whiskey differs from Irish whiskey in a number of ways. It’s generally distilled twice rather than three times, uses a mix of different grains and adopts the aroma and flavor of the barrels in which its distilled. American whiskey is matured until it’s ready.
“Never confuse age with maturity,” Zapata stressed. “If we were counting age, in Chicago for example, we would be counting the harsh Chicago winters where nothing’s happening in that barrel.”
Jack Daniels’ process of filtering their whiskey through sugar maple charcoal mellows the harshness and gives it its unique smoothness. Jack Daniels offers a variety of whiskeys covering three flavor profiles: light and gentle, flavorful and spicy and full bodied and robust.
Before the taste test, one must learn the correct way to smell whiskey: inhale through the nose with the mouth open. We began with Gentleman Jack, the pale amber colored 80 proof (40% vol). Light and gentle, it’s a pleasant one to begin with to ease our way into the tasting session. Deliciously mellow, the accessible Gentleman Jack is made to sip and savor. It is the only whiskey that goes through the charcoal mellowing process twice, resulting in its light color and smooth tone.
Zapata reminded us of the correct way to taste whiskey, which is to hold the first small sip on your tongue, close to the palette, for a few seconds before releasing it to flow throughout the mouth. This first small sip prepares the palette for alcohol, thereby allowing you to taste the flavors better with your second and third sip. Those sweet vanilla, brown sugar and caramel notes came through clearly.
We moved on to the full-bodied and robust 94 proof (47% vol), Single Barrel Select (1997). This premium class of whiskey is bottled from a single barrel as opposed to blending several to achieve uniformity of color and taste, so every single unblended barrel provides a unique whiskey. Single Barrel Select, darker and maple syrup colored, is the perfect accompaniment to a cigar with its heavier aromas of vanilla and brown sugar. It is quite hot and leaves the lips tingling.
With the new Single Barrel Barrel Proof label, not only does the color and taste vary from barrel to barrel, the proof varies as well, falling between 125 and 140. The difference is that water has not been added to the Single Barrel Barrel Proof to bring it down to a uniform 94 proof. Zapata informed us that a few drops of water can easily be added to the label to dilute it to suit personal tastes if desired. We sampled a 128 proof bottle that tasted very sharp and hot. It certainly packs a punch, and those unaccustomed to drinking strong whiskeys straight will feel the burn.
People associate the Jack Daniels brand with a certain swagger. Several musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin, admired the attitude attached to Jack Daniels, and hence they associated themselves with the brand. Jack Daniels was Sinatra’s favorite drink, supposedly keeping a bottle close at hand at every performance. The 90 proof Sinatra Select (2013), at a steep $165 per bottle, comes packaged in a pretty box with orange lettering and was designed specifically with Sinatra’s favorite color in mind.
Zapata held up a grooved oak barrel segment and provided us with a metaphor to explain the science behind the barrel. The extra deep grooves of the Sinatra barrels exposes the whiskey to extra layers of oak, giving the full-bodied Sinatra Select a pleasant smokiness, a boldness and a complexity, but also a smooth vanilla finish.
“We groove out the barrel to reveal the toast behind the char,” Zapata said. “The charring is responsible for the vanilla notes and the toast for the caramel notes.”
Finally, we tried the sweet Tennessee Honey (2011) and Tennessee Fire (2014), both marketed toward women and millennials. As a millennial woman, I have to say these sweet liquors were my personal favorite and thoroughly satisfied my sweet tooth, suggesting all kinds of delicious cocktail concoctions. Zapata alerted us to the peach tones in the refreshing and deliciously smooth golden Tennessee Honey, a popular choice in the summer when mixed with lemonades or peach iced tea and chunks of fresh peaches. The cinnamon flavored Tennessee Fire, perfect for the holiday season, is a fiery winter warmer with a rousing kick that hits the spot. With its sweet and subtle vanilla and caramel aftertaste, it can be sipped with ease or spice up fruity drinks such as apple juice or hot apple cider. This is definitely one for the holiday seasons.