Continuing our exploration of some more mainstream brands (for the sake of my palate and wallet), we’re checking out an offering from one of the most ubiquitous whiskey brands: Jack Daniels. The folks at Jack Daniel’s have created a variety of expressions of their famous sour mash bourbon. One version of their spirit goes through the famous Lincoln County charcoal mellowing process not once but twice, and that version is known as Gentleman Jack.
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 liked 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. 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 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.
As with most whiskeys, 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 sour), 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.
After being filtered, the spirit is stored in new production oak barrels and aged for a period of time, although the packaging makes no claims as to the actual age of the liquid inside — so there’s really no way to know how long it sat on those oak barrels. Once aged to perfection, the spirit is tasted and some of the barrels are selected to go through a second charcoal filtering. These twice filtered bottles are then packaged as Gentleman Jack.
The bottles for Gentleman Jack are a somewhat radical departure from the norm for Jack Daniel’s. Instead of the square botttle, they opted for a more flask-like shape that tapers outwards from the base and then rolls inwards with a gentle sloping shoulder. The label is improved as well, sporting a metallic silver background and black lettering.
What I like the most about this bottle is the open space. Instead of covering the whole thing with a label they let the whiskey inside shine through, displaying that beautiful rich amber color.
The aroma coming off the glass is definitely stronger than the original single-pass filtered edition. I can smell the light apple and caramel with a bit of vanilla in there, and overall the effect is very much that banana scent that I usually associate with charcoal filtered spirits.
It’s pretty much the same story with the flavor. It’s a little more potent than the usual edition of Jack Daniel’s, but that’s a good thing here. I like the flavors in Jack Daniel’s, I just wish they would turn up the volume a bit. Which is what they did here.
It’s a smooth and delicious spirit, with that same banana flavor that I do enjoy. There’s also a bit of buttery deliciousness that makes the liquid seem to have a bit more weight to it, and I’m here for it. I will also point out that while I detected a little bit of bitterness left in the original version of Jack, there’s no trace of it here.
Just like with the standard version, there isn’t really much change here.
Normally, with a little ice, the more delicate flavors drop out of the race, leaving only the strong to survive. In this case, though, the banana flavors are still very much present and downright enjoyable.
There really isn’t much change here. So if you’re looking for a drink that tastes pretty much the same chilled as it does neat, this would be a good option to cool down on a hot summer’s day.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I don’t think this necessarily worked with the original version of Jack Daniel’s and I don’t think it works here.
What you need for a good old fashioned are some darker and richer tones that the bitters can play off. In this case, the charcoal filtering has taken out all of those items, leaving nothing really but a sweet and light spirit. Without that depth, the old fashioned just doesn’t reach its full potential.
It’s not patently offensive (unlike some other spirits I could mention). It just doesn’t work.
Again, just like with the original formula, it’s not the greatest.
Once more, it’s the fruity and light nature of the spirit that isn’t really doing the job for me. Without a richer flavor profile, there’s nothing to balance against the bright and cheerful ginger beer. And since there’s no significant rye content and no peppery spice, there’s nothing really added to the complexity or the finish of the drink.
I will say, in it’s favor, the banana flavor does a decent job mixing in with the ginger beer… but it’s just not enough.
There’s no doubt that this is a better expression of Jack Daniel’s classic recipe. It’s delicious on its own or on the rocks, but still falls a bit flat when you’re trying to use it as a mixer.
All that said, I’m still a fan. I do enjoy the flavor of it, and it’s well suited to sipping on the rocks in those warm summer evenings. And for about $2 more per bottle, there’s no way I’m going to cheap out on the normal Jack Daniel’s again.
|Jack Daniels Gentleman Jack|
Tennessee, United States
Classification: Tennessee Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $23.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A little more refined, as a good gentleman should be.