Whiskey Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

Jack Daniel’s has a line of Straight Rye Whiskey that we’ve reviewed before. It’s pretty good, racking up a four star rating at the time of the review. But Jack isn’t satisfied with just pretty good, and has started putting out a premium line with different versions of their existing whiskey. This time we’re looking at a single barrel version of their rye that promises to have some new tricks up its sleeve.

History

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 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 and in 1875 (not 1866, as sometimes claimed), he used this money 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 Lem Moltow would eventually buy out the other owners to become the sole owner of the facility.

Kentucky enacted their own version of prohibition a full 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 sold as a 90 proof whiskey, the Brown-Forman company started lowering the alcohol content to 86 proof in 1987 and again to 80 proof in 2002 in an attempt to reduce the production cost and the taxes paid on each bottle.

Product

Jack Daniel’s touted their rye whiskey grain bill as the “first new grain bill in 100 years” when it came on the market, and today’s rye whiskey is a refinement and improvement on that same grain bill.

The whiskey starts as a combination of 70% Rye, 18% Corn, and 12% Malted Barley, which is pretty much a direct flip between rye and corn content from their normal Tennessee whiskey.

As a “sour mash”, the yeast used in each batch is pulled from the previous batch — a process that maintains the lineage of the yeast and is said to maintain a more consistent product.

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, and process that the company calls “mellowing” and is referred to as the Lincoln County Process.

This is where their whiskey lines diverge. Normally, their whiskey is aged somewhere between 4 and 7 years before being blended, proofed down, and bottled. For this specific bottling, Jack Daniel’s grabs the casks from the highest point in the rickhouse, the area that gets the most significant changes in temperature and typically produces the richest flavors. They then skip the blending stage, proof the spirit down to an acceptable alcohol content, and slam it into a bottle for distribution.

Packaging

This is a little different from the traditional Jack Daniel’s bottle, and I appreciate it.

Overall, this is still a square-ish shaped bottle… but instead of being tall and narrow, it’s short and fat. Much closer to the cognac bottles that inspired Maker’s Mark or a French perfume bottle. The glass bottle is topped with an oversized wood and cork stopper that feels solid and enjoyable to use.

The labeling is also significantly different. Instead of a wraparound label, this is a smaller and more specific label with only the bare essentials detailed on the front. There’s not a whole lot of wasted space, which means there’s plenty of spare room around the sides for the beautifully dark whiskey inside to show off its true colors.

Neat

In the forefront of the aromas here are the traditional rye elements. It’s like cracking open a rye bread loaf and taking a big whiff — there’s a good bit of cereal or malty aroma, but there’s also that peppery and spicy portions that contribute to such a unique and interesting profile.

The actual flavor of the spirit is not quite as peppery as I would have expected. It’s still very much a pepper-forward, spicy spirit… perhaps with a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon added, but there’s more of the vanilla and the caramel flavors that you’d typically attribute to something like a bourbon. Just on the tail, you can almost taste the banana creeping in from that Lincoln County process, and then finally there’s a rich oak-y kick that lingers on the end.

It’s not like many other rye whiskey spirits I’ve had before, which is good. It’s adding its own voice to the conversation.

On Ice

Typically, adding some ice to a spirit will change the flavor profile considerably. In most cases the bolder flavors are toned down a bit and the more subtle aspects completely drop out of the running. That’s no different here and I feel like it’s a good change.

With a little ice, the peppery spice comes through much clearer than before. The other flavors seem to have sunk to the back, and that traditional rye boldness is what comes through most clearly. I still get a touch of the nutmeg creeping in, but the rest are all but vanished.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I’ve always preferred either a bold bourbon or a good rye for my old fashioned cocktails. Something about those flavors just make it that much better (in my opinion) and in this case, Jack Daniels certainly doesn’t fall short.

The peppery spice of the rye whiskey balances nicely with the bright orange essence and bitters. It’s a cocktail that would work best sitting in a back yard waiting for some good slow cooked BBQ, where those flavors would be complimentary and shine through the richer and darker meal.

Fizz (Mule)

The test of a good spirit is whether it can make itself present among all of the other powerful flavors in a mule. The ginger beer, the sweetness of the lime juice… it can all be overpowering unless the underlying flavors of the spirit are strong and unique enough to swim to the surface.

In this case, the rye whiskey meets and exceeds the challenge. Just like with the standard issue version of their rye, this spirit balances well with the ginger beer and the peppery spice in the spirit comes through loud and clear at the end. It elevates the whole cocktail and makes it even more delicious than usual.

Overall Rating

I feel like this single barrel release of their rye whiskey does indeed bring something new to the table. It’s got some interesting flavors that come out when the whiskey isn’t blended with other barrels and makes for an enjoyable drink. It’s worth the extra $10 Jack is asking for over the standard version, but it’s still not quite good enough to make it into the five star range.

Jack Daniels Single Barrel Rye
Produced By: Jack Daniels
Owned By: Brown-Forman Corp.
Production Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $43.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 4/5
Well worth the upcharge.

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