Jack Daniel’s is famous worldwide with its black label edition, aka the version the majority of us are familiar with. Sure, there are some other flavored editions that have come out recently, but the Black Label remains the standard for their line of spirits. But the Black Label didn’t always reign supreme — and in a few states here in the United States, you can still find bottles of their original Green Label edition.
Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was born around 1849 in Tennessee, the youngest of ten siblings. His birth mother died shortly after having him and his father remarried, having three more children before leaving to fight in the American Civil War. Jack never liked his step mother 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 in order to 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 Lem Moltow would eventually buy out the others to become the sole owner of the facility.
According to legend, the Green Label version of their whiskey was actually the “original” product. It was only after Jack’s death in 1911 that Lem decided to put out a longer aged version with a black label out of respect for the whiskey legend.
Next door to Tennessee, Kentucky enacted their own version of prohibition 10 full years earlier than the rest of the United States and 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.
Then, while federal prohibition ended in 1933, Tennessee’s law remained on the books. Now elected as a Tennessee state senator, Moltow 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.
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.
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the Black Label edition, that’s usually the version that most people can find in their local stores. At the moment, the Green Label is only available in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Tennessee.
As with the black label, 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; the company calls this “mellowing” and is it commonly 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 exactly how long it sat on those oak barrels.
For the green label version, rumor has it that the distillery ages this whiskey for a shorter period of time and pulls the barrels from the bottom of the warehouse (where there’s less of a temperature shift and therefore less flavor imparted to the whiskey).
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, but without sacrificing a good bit of flourish in the embellishments.
The only noticeable difference between this Green Label version and the Black Label is just that — this version has a green label with gold lettering for much of the label, instead of the black label with entirely white text.
One of the defining characteristics that I get from a Tennessee whiskey is a fruity aroma and flavor, which my brain interprets as “banana”. This is present in pretty much all of the Jack Daniel’s whiskey (that hasn’t been meddled with and flavored, that is) and sure enough, that same note is absolutely present here. I’d say its lighter in intensity here than other versions, and a touch sweeter as well, but it is still present and combined with just a hint of caramel and vanilla.
Taking a sip, you can tell that this is a much younger and less matured version than we usually see. The caramel and vanilla flavors are there, but that telltale banana note is far less prominent than usual. There’s also an unfortunate amount of raw alcohol flavor that comes with some bitterness, although that seems to wash out as the flavor finishes in a touch of black pepper spice that lingers on the lips.
Interesting to note: I caught that same bitterness in the “standard” black label Jack Daniel’s review, so I don’t think you can blame the younger age of the whiskey on that aspect. It does tend to disappear in their single barrel and Gentleman Jack expressions, though.
When you add a bit of ice to a spirit, the lighter flavors typically become diluted and any harsher aspects of the flavor profile are toned down. That’s absolutely what’s happening here as well, and I think it improves the drink quite a bit.
Gone is the slightly harsh bitterness from the raw alcohol, but also the slight bit of banana has been almost eliminated. It seems to be clinging to the edge of the flavor profile as if about to fall off.
Otherwise, what’s left is closer to a standard young bourbon. There’s a light smattering of caramel and vanilla from the oak barrel aging, but there’s also a good bit of charred wood flavor in there giving it a little more of that traditional Jack Daniel’s smokiness.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Usually, I like a darker and richer old fashioned — something with a little more smoke and flavor. That’s not what you get here, certainly, but I can’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing.
In this version of an Old Fashioned, you’ve got a lighter and more cheerful flavor profile with a little bit of fruit and sweetness thanks to the little bit of banana flavor that’s still hanging on and mixing with the bitters. Add a little twist of orange peel and it’s delicious, actually.
As long as you’re looking for something that’s more citrus and less charred, this works pretty well.
For a mule, the criteria for success here is pretty much “be less boring than vodka”. Essentially, bring something to the table and make it interesting.
For the flavors of the cocktail, the whiskey is definitely making itself known and doing so decently well. The ginger beer flavor is nicely played against the sweeter flavors in the whiskey, and the combination makes for a light and almost fruity cocktail. Again, I usually prefer things on the richer and darker side, but this isn’t terrible.
Where I find myself a little let down is on the finish. Usually, with a higher rye content whiskey there’s some peppery textures and spice to the finish which add some unique notes. Here I get none of that, sadly. It’s almost as flat and smooth as a wheated bourbon.
The flavors in here are consistent with a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey that just hasn’t been aged quite as long as usual. They are all there, but not quite fully developed.
I can see why this doesn’t usually get as wide a release as the black label. There really isn’t anything this expression brings to the table that isn’t done better by the black label version, with the exception of the price tag. At about $4 cheaper per bottle, I can see this being an appealing budget-friendly buy.
Personally, I’d prefer to pay for the black label. But as-is, you definitely get what you pay for.
|Jack Daniels Green Label Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
Tennessee, United States
Classification: Tennessee Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $17.49 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
A lighter price tag with a lighter touch on the flavors.