Whiskey Review: Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey

People might be surprised when I tell them that Jack Daniel’s is my one of my go-to whiskeys when I’m ordering at bars. Sure, I could spend a few minutes pouring over the whiskey selection and weighing the pros and cons of each spirit, but when I’m out for a night I know two things about Jack: it will always be there, and it will always be consistent. But I can’t say I often stock Jack Daniels at home, nor is it something I reach for when I want a higher caliber whiskey. That may change, though, based on the bottle we’re looking at today: Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey.


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History

Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was born around 1849 in Tennessee, the youngest of ten siblings. His birth mother died shortly after having him. His father remarried, having three more children before leaving to fight in the American Civil War. Jack never got along his stepmother and when news came that his father had been killed, he ran away from home.

Jack was taken in by a preacher and moonshine distiller named Dan Call, who was working with an enslaved African-American man named Nathan “Nearest” Green. The three continued to work together after emancipation, and throughout his teenage years these two men taught Jack the art of distilling and producing whiskey.

Following a long fight with his siblings, Jack eventually received some of his father’s inheritance which, in 1875 (not 1866, as is sometimes claimed), he used to purchase the land where the Jack Daniel’s distillery now resides. Jack legally registered the distillery so that he could start selling his product and was assigned registration number seven in his district, which is the origin for the “Old No. 7” labeling on their bottles.

Jack never had any children of his own, but he was very fond of his nephews and worked with them to pass on the knowledge that he had gained. In 1907, Jack officially handed the distillery over to his nephews, and one, Lem Moltow, would eventually buy out the other owners to become the sole owner of the facility.

The prohibition years proved a challenge, though. Kentucky enacted their own version of prohibition 10 years earlier than the rest of the United States. Lem Moltow led the test case to challenge the constitutionality of the law, but lost in court when the judge upheld the law. He tried to move production to neighboring states, but none of the product made at those facilities was ever made available for sale due to issues with the quality of the product.

While federal prohibition ended in 1933, Tennessee’s law remained on the books. Lem Moltow, now elected as a Tennessee state senator, led the effort to repeal the state prohibition on alcohol and was instrumental in the passage of the 1938 repeal that allowed his distillery to reopen.

Lem Moltow died in 1947, leaving the distillery to his family. They sold the brand and the distillery in 1956 to the Brown-Forman corporation, a family owned business that is one of the largest producers of whiskey in the United States and also owns brands such as Woodford Reserve and Old Forester.

Originally selling 90 proof whiskey, the Brown-Forman company started lowering the alcohol content to 86 proof in 1987 and again to 80 proof in 2002 as an attempt to reduce the production cost and the taxes paid on each bottle.

Product

As a bourbon whiskey, Jack Daniel’s starts with a fermented mash consisting of 80% corn, 12% rye and 8% malted barley. The “sour mash” label means that some of the material from a previous distillation (called “backset”) is added to the mash to increase the acidity of the liquid (hence, the sour part of “sour mash”), which helps fermentation and reduces the likelihood that bacteria will ruin the whiskey.

Once distilled, the spirit is filtered through a 10 foot stack of charcoal produced from sugar maple trees. This filtering process removes impurities and some of the harsher tasting elements from the spirit, a process that the company calls “mellowing” and is referred to as the Lincoln County Process.

That’s all standard for any bottle of Jack Daniel’s, but their Bonded Series of spirits follows the stipulations set forth by the “Bottled in Bond Act” rather than the traditional (quicker) process.

Just like with a bourbon, the whiskey is added to new charred oak barrels at no less than 125 proof to mature. While bourbon doesn’t have a minimum length of time it needs to rest, a “bottled in bond” spirit stays in there for a minimum of four years. Once everything is tasting as it should, the spirit is blended together with other barrels that are hand selected by Jack Daniel’s to create the intended flavor profile, but the kicker here is that those other barrels are required to be (A) from the same distillery and (B) from the same “distilling season” as each other.

The newly finished whiskey is bottled at a minimum of 100 proof — 50% ABV.

Packaging

Probably one of the most iconic bottles in the world, the angular and square bottle of a Jack Daniel’s black label whiskey is designed more for drinking than for looking at. The label lets you know what’s inside with minimal muss or fuss, and the bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.

I appreciate that for this bottling of their spirit they went with a smaller label than usual, which doesn’t block your view of the spirit inside — although it does have to use a pretty small font to cram all of the required information onto a more compact space. This is worth it, though, since that spirit really is a beautiful deep amber color and I’m happy that they let it do the talking instead of wrapping the bottle in their usual full-length sticker.

Neat

Right off the bat, you can see that this is a darker and richer version of Jack Daniel’s, similar to their barrel proof single barrel edition that they released. The color is a beautiful dark amber with a hint of orange among the brown and caramel colors in the bottle, and I love it.

Going just by the aroma, you could be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t a bottle of Jack. Usually, I get sweeter fruity notes from bottles of Tennessee whiskey, but here it’s more of a traditional bourbon aroma filled with brown sugar, toffee caramel, vanilla, raw corn, and apple as the predominant fruit. There are some whispers of banana around the edges but not enough to make a lasting impact.

While the color and the aroma might be a little different from the norm, taking a sip is a delicious and powerful return to form for the spirit. Banana is the predominant flavor here, that sweet fruity note that I get consistently from a charcoal filtered Tennessee whiskey, but there’s more depth and complexity here than usual. That banana is backed up immediately by some caramelized brown sugar, vanilla, a hint of cedar, and a good dash of black pepper spice from the rye content. That pepper spice adds a nice texture to the spirit and lingers well into the finish, where it and the banana flavor are pretty much all that remain.

The flavors aren’t incredibly complex, but they are well saturated and well balanced. One word of warning, however, is that this whiskey is clocking in at a particularly potent 50% ABV, and that level of alcohol might be a touch unpleasant for the unprepared.

On Ice

The best thing that the ice does here is that it tones down the alcohol content. Instead of feeling like you took a sip of fire, this is much more manageable and enjoyable. It does change the flavor profile a bit, though mostly in positive ways.

I think that at this point we’ve got a deeper, richer version of the whiskey we started out with. The banana has all but disappeared, leaving behind primarily the charred brown sugar, vanilla, and a smokier version of the cedar flavor that is probably closer to a smoky oak barrel. It isn’t quite a charcoal flavor just yet, but you can tell that a little more time in the barrel will push it over that unfortunate hill.

This could easily be a good sipping whiskey on the rocks. I think the added ice gives it a smoother feel in the mouth, and there’s plenty of flavor holding it’s own against the added water from the ice. Which also bodes well for the cocktails, I hope.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

What this was missing on the rocks was that lighter component to the flavor profile. You had some fruit and aromatics when taken neat, but that disappeared when the ice went into the glass. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the bitters add back in, and the result is a deep and rich cocktail that is deliciously balanced.

I will note that this is indeed a darker version than most people might be used to. It certainly could use the help of a bit of citrus to lighten it up, and the use of orange bitters might not be a bad choice here. It feels like this just needs a little bit of a lift to make it perfect, but I’m one of those crazies who likes a darker version of an old fashioned cocktail anyway. To me, this is just great.

Fizz (Mule)

This is everything I want in a mule and more.

First up, the balance between the bright ginger beer and the darker and richer bourbon is on point. There are great flavors in both camps, and the combination gives you this nicely balanced and refreshing cocktail that still retains some of its power. You clearly know that there’s bourbon in here, which is the opposite effect from what you get in a vodka based mule — and which is exactly what I’m looking for.

Another delightful aspect is that the black pepper spice from the rye content makes an appearance near the middle and end of the experience as well, adding some new textures to the cocktail that weren’t there before. Instead of a boring and flat finish, there’s a spicy flavor that leaves you wanting more.


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Overall Rating

As much as Jack Daniel’s gets a bad rap sometimes due to its perceived “down market” appeal, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had anything of theirs that I would consider bad. I’ve enjoyed some of their bottles more than others, but in general they make some delicious and consistent spirits that are widely available. And this Bonded Tennessee Whiskey is a great addition to the stockpile.

While the flavor profile might not be the most imaginative, it does have some well saturated and balanced components that are enjoyable to sip no matter what situation you’re in. I do feel like that 100 proof requirement for the bottled in bond label is holding it back some, as I feel like a 40% ABV bottling would be much smoother and just as delicious without that pronounced alcohol bite… but the good news here is that you can adjust that yourself in the comfort of your own home.

Jack Daniels Bonded Tennessee Whiskey
Produced By: Jack Daniels
Owned By: Brown-Forman Corp.
Production Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Special Type: Bottled In Bond
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
A dark, rich bourbon with some hints of Tennessee whiskey hallmarks thrown in for deliciousness.


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