I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t know jack. That is, until I tried a sample of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof a few months ago.
First, some perspective. I’ve never been a big Jack Daniel’s fan. With that said, you will never get me to say that standard black label Old No. 7 is a bad whiskey. It’s not. It’s just not the right whiskey for me. Jack Daniels Old No. 7 is known for its mellowness in terms of proof and flavor. It is those characteristics that make it popular, either straight or in the way it mingles with Coca-Cola.
I prefer a bigger, bolder American whiskey. For that reason, I’ve been typically drawn to (a) higher proof bourbons and (b) bourbons that have either spent more than 4-6 years in a barrel, or at least spent its time in barrels in the hotspots of a rick house.
Three months ago, I would have told you Jack Daniel’s couldn’t fit that bill.
I was wrong.
In 2015, Jack Daniel’s introduced Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof to the market. This whiskey is a 4-7 year old Tennessee whiskey, bottled without dilution or chill filtration. It is whiskey that is pulled from the top floors of the rick houses, and hand sampled and selected to be offered as this premium product.
I can tell you that it is damn good whiskey. If you like a barrel proof bourbon, I’d urge you to set aside your prior experiences with Jack Daniel’s and give this product a try. While each bottle is a “single barrel” from unique barrels, the flavor profile are generally rich and bold, well oaked, and full of flavor at around 128-138 proof.
This past November, shortly after I discovered that I could in fact love Jack, I was given the opportunity to work with our friends at Tom’s Wine & Spirits to select a “store pick” single barrel. Not the standard “Single Barrel Select” that has been offered since 1997. But the Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof that I came to know just a few months prior.
We arrived at Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, Tennessee on Tuesday morning, November 6th. After a private guided tour of the famous grounds to see the production process – including the charcoal production “Rickyard,” the fermentation building, the Stillhouse, the “Lincoln County Process” vats, “Barrelhouse 1” and the bottling facility – we moved our way in to the barrel selection area of Warehouse 1, which is reserved exclusively for private selections of Single Barrel Barrel Proof.
Lined up for us were three untapped barrels. Jack Daniel’s produces a single recipe, and essentially all Jack Daniel’s products (whether Green Label, Black Label, Gentlemen Jack, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, or one of the other less traditional offerings) all enter the barrel the same. However, according to our guide, certain sections of certain warehouses are marked for possible single barrel selections. Tasters pull and sample certain lots for inclusion in the Single Barrel program (or, if rejected, on to ordinary Old No. 7 Black Label). From those lots, barrels are selected for inclusion in the “Barrel Select Program” as ordinary Single Barrel. And then from those, the selections are further whittled down for possible inclusion in the Barrel Proof Single Barrel program. This product is clearly the cream of the crop.
After tapping each of the three casks, Tom, James, Keaton, Darren and I sat down and worked our way through the samples.
Barrel No. 1: 5 Year (Approx. 135 Proof)
Nose: Baking spice, burnt/caramelized sugar; dry oak; baking chocolate; mixed fruit. A bit of burn not unexpected with 130+ proof.
Palate: Rich baking chocolate; light banana bread; cinnamon spice; caramel; vanilla; baking chocolate. A delicious palate that had subtle relations to Old No. 7 (banana bread, caramel and vanilla) but amped up and complimented by baking chocolate and baking spice. Hot.
Finish: Vanilla, butterscotch, toasted marshmallows; banana; baking chocolate. Not as long as I’d hope, but satisfying nonetheless.
Overall: The reactions to this were a bit mixed. The rich flavors and baking chocolates were appreciated, but this one did come across as a bit hot, even when revisiting after the other barrels. For me personally, this had an amazing palate. But in being critical, the finish left this one feeling a bit incomplete. I’d be very happy with a bottle from this barrel.
Barrel No. 2: 5 Year (Approx. 132 Proof)
Nose: Corn syrup; baking spice; coconut. Muted flavors but thick ethanol.
Palate: Candy corn; brown sugar; vanilla. A bit one-dimensional.
Finish: Drying chocolate; vanilla; coconut.
Overall: If you were looking for an “easy-drinking” barrel proof bourbon, this barrel might just be for you. There wan’t anything wrong with this. But it was too safe. It was the expected. The ordinary. We wanted something beyond ordinary. The consensus quickly eliminated this barrel.
Barrel No. 3: 5 Year (Approx. 134 Proof)
Nose: Rich brown sugar; baking spice; fresh baked scones; toasted oak; toasted nut; toasted marshmallow; deep mixed berry fruitiness. If we want to talk about unexpected, this nose was unexpected. And amazing.
Palate: Brown sugar; baking spice; toasted marshmallow; dry oak; semi-sweet chocolate; background apple and orange citrus. These flavors develop in your mouth. Rich.
Finish: Long. Toasted marshmallow; chocolate; vanilla; toasted oak. Simple yet at the same time complex. Very satisfying.
Overall: The nose and finish of this one stole the show compared to the other two. And the palate was a close second. From a “complete picture” standpoint in choosing a barrel, this one was the most satisfying experience from start to finish.
Ultimately, the showdown came down to Barrel No. 1 versus No. 3. It took us multiple trips back to the thief and barrel before we were satisfied that Barrel No. 3 was the winner. The vote was unanimous.
Expect Tom’s to receive its barrel in early 2019. Stay tuned to http://flightclubict.com/single-barrels/ for more information and availability of the release.
If you are like me and might otherwise turn your nose up at Jack Daniel’s, set that aside and give this one a try. I’m convinced that you too might be surprised as to what Jack Daniel’s can really produce.
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.