Whiskey Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

There can be only one king of whiskey and this is it, the #1 top selling American whiskey in the world: Jack Daniels. 12.5 million cases sold in 2018 (not including “ready to drink” varieties). Immortalized in song and so beloved by Frank Sanatra that he was buried with a bottle it is one of the most famous things that Tennessee produces. But is it any good?

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 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 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 10 full 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 as an attempt to reduce the production cost and the taxes paid on each bottle.

Product

As with most whiskeys Jack Daniel’s starts with a fermented mash consisting of 80% corn, 12% rye and 8% malted barley. 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.

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 bottled, with some of the barrels being re-routed to the less popular green label instead of the “premium” black label version.

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.

Bottles are typically glass and topped with a plastic screw top underneath a plastic shrink wrap capper. Jack Daniel’s also makes a variety of smaller versions depending on your need. The small plastic bottle seen in this review is an example, as I didn’t really need an entire bottle for a review.

Neat

I don’t really get much from the smell, there’s a bit of alcohol and that’s about it. I think I also smell a bit of smokey aroma but there’s not much there. It isn’t unpleasant, but it isn’t very appealing either.

The liquid has a surprising weight to it for being an 80 proof spirit, which is on the lower end of the whiskey spectrum.

As for the actual taste there’s something surprising in there. Yeah there’s a bit of smoke and some vanilla as you’d expect from the oak barrel aging process, but there’s also something that tastes like Hoppe’s #9 (which, for you non gun owners, is a banana oil based cleaning solvent specifically for gunpowder and other gun related compounds). Which is to say it is a delicious and appealing flavor. Heck, they make Hoppes #9 scented air fresheners for a reason and this is basically the drink version.

The only real complaint I have is that there’s a touch of bitterness in the middle that tends to fade into the background after you swallow. It’s not terrible but it’s definitely more than with other whiskeys.

On Ice

The only change from just having it neat is that the slight bitterness is gone. The same flavors that were there without the ice are still present and still just as good.

So really ice only improves things, you don’t lose any flavors like you might with a typical bourbon.

Old Fashioned

There’s nothing distasteful about it, and the bitters definitely don’t overpower the drink, but I don’t think this is a good fit.

The problem here I think is that there’s too much fruit flavor. The base whiskey was fairly fruity to start, where normally you’d expect more earthy or even just sweet vanilla flavors. Instead it’s practically a banana flavored spirit and the addition of some orange bitters don’t change that significantly.

If you’re looking for an old fashioned you should start with a different base spirit.

Mule

It’s fine, but it isn’t great.

Again, I think the problem here is that the base spirit is too fruit forward. In a Kentucky Mule you really need something like a rye based spice or an earthy flavor to balance out the sweetness and the tangy flavor of the ginger beer.

Overall Rating

Honestly I really like this neat or on the rocks. That banana flavor is an interesting one among whiskey, and if you’re looking for something to put in your Jack and Coke I can’t think of a better option. Just don’t go into this expecting something amazing.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
Owner: Brown-Forman Co.
Production: Lynchburg, TN
Classification: Whiskey
Grain bill: 80% corn, 12% rye and 8% malted barley
Aging: ??
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $21.99/ 750ml ($0.033 / ml)
Buy online

Overall Rating: 3/5
There’s nothing wrong with it, and I think the filtering process is a great benefit here. It tastes good, it’s relatively inexpensive, and available everywhere.

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