Whiskey Wednesday: A Three
After decades of rolling with pretty much one flagship product, Jack Daniel’s Distillery has certainly shoveled the coals on their innovation department of late, releasing dozens of new special one-off recipes and finishes as well as permanent line extensions. Some of these new products are simply single-barrel releases or cask-strength editions of already existing spirits, but they are chosen thoughtfully and with purpose.
One interesting and welcome innovation from Jack Daniel’s and their parent company Brown-Forman has been experimentation with secondary barreling after the standard Jack Tennessee whiskey or rye has already spent its requisite four to six years in new, charred oak barrels. Some people think that this is tinkering with an already great product, but I consider it a way to add character without affecting the heritage liquids within the casks. I’ve received three really interesting limited-release products from the good folks at Jack Daniel’s over the past few months, so I figured I’d save them up to demonstrate to you just how busy the team in Lynchburg has been.
The first is one of those experiments in barrel-strength releases of traditional products. Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey is a mouthful of a name, but it’s also a delicious mouthful in a glass. Jack uses a rye mash bill of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley, which is a higher corn content than many ryes on the market, but which also showcases the distillery’s dedication as a longtime fan of corn in whiskey.
The distillery staff pulls barrels from the highest floors of their rickhouses for consideration for use in their single-barrel program because these whiskeys live in a hotter environment and extract more color and flavor from the oak than most of their compatriot casks. The result of this extraction is a deeply complex rye whiskey that nicely balances the elements of grain and oak, and which drinks remarkably smooth considering the bottle I tasted was an elevated 137.3 proof.
Rye is traditionally described as offering winter spices to whiskey, and you can detect the toasted fruit character of the grain. But it is balanced well with the vanilla and smoke from the barrel to create an outstanding whiskey that is intensely peppery with a long finish. This is a tough one to find on local shelves, but if you track some down, it’s a bargain at an MSRP of around $60 a bottle.
The second release I’ve sampled lately is another rye, but in this case, Jack Daniel’s experiments with a secondary barrel instead of higher proof to create a unique product. Twice Barreled Special Release Heritage Barrel Rye shares the same mash bill as the previous rye I described, but instead of selecting the most intense ryes in their rickhouses, Jack Daniel’s picks spirits that have been charcoal-mellowed and then aged at least five years in new American white oak barrels.
Then they bring what they call their “Heritage Barrels” into play. Employing their own Jack Daniel’s Cooperage in Northern Alabama, they dump the rye into a second set of new barrels that are heavily toasted instead of charred. This wouldn’t satisfy the requirements of Tennessee whiskey if it were the first barrel that this spirit had touched, but as a finishing vessel, these barrels contribute lovely subtle nutty and honey notes to the already fruity rye.
If you like toast more than bread, well, that just makes sense. This is the rye whiskey for you — buttery, fruity with a little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon on the palate. Bottled at 100 proof, it’s not too hot to sip, and at $75 per bottle, it’s also not too precious to act as the base of a fantastic Manhattan.
The final new Jack spirit I’ve enjoyed lately showcases the international reach of Brown-Forman. Not everyone knows it, but used Jack Daniel’s barrels are a key component to the manufacture of other aged spirits — most notably tequila and scotch. Brown-Forman owns El Jimador and Herradura Tequila, so you can bet that a lot of their own Jack Daniel’s barrels make their way south of the border to age agave from blanco to reposado or añejo. And I’m pretty sure at least some of those oak casks have been repatriated back to Lynchburg as part of the latest release from Jack Daniel’s Distillery Series.
Release No. 11 in the series was crafted by one of the company’s tasters, Danny Lamb. Working with Master Distiller Chris Fletcher, Lamb has taken aged Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and finished it in barrels that had previously contained Jack Black and matured añejo tequila. If you wouldn’t ordinarily think of mixing whiskey and tequila, perhaps due to the memory of an unfortunate night in college, let this excellent spirit erase that incident from your hard drive.
Both whiskey and tequila benefit from the caramel and vanilla of oak barrels, and the char of the oak is an important component in both end products. But the grains and fruits of the individual spirits meld together surprisingly well in this unique product. The sweetness of the corn and the traditional bananas foster character of Jack Daniel’s play very well with the fruits and floral notes left behind by the tequila’s short oak nap without overpowering the whiskey.
If nobody told you that it was tequila that was changing the game with this spirit, I doubt you could guess what was giving Distillery Series selection No. 11 its unique flavor, and that might be for the best depending on how bad that night in college was. But I found it to be delightful and well worth the price of $41.99 for a 375-milliliter bottle. Tennesseans are lucky, because this release is only available in the White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the distillery and in select liquor stores across the state, so hop to it and find yourself a bottle!
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