Jack Daniels is branching out, trying new things. One of their newest creations is a rye whiskey with a distinctively light label. Today, we give it a try and see if it lives up to the Jack Daniels name.
Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was born around 1849 in Tennessee, the youngest of ten siblings. His birth mother died shortly after giving birth to him and his father remarried, having three more children before leaving to fight in the American Civil War. Jack apparently 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.
Tennessee actually enacted their own version of prohibition a full 10 years earlier than the rest of the United States. Lem Motlow led the test case to challenge the constitutionality of the law, but lost in court when the judge upheld it. 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 Motlow, 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 Motlow 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.
First revealed in August 2017, the rye whiskey is among a batch of new products being introduced under the Jack Daniels brand. It’s not the first rye whiskey they’ve produced — but this time it’s for mass production and not a specialty bottling.
The spirit starts as a fermented mash of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley. That’s pretty close to a straight flip from their usual product which is heavy on the corn and light on the rye, but even then the malted barley has been increased as well.
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.
Following that process, the spirit is aged for an undisclosed period of time, bottled, and shipped.
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. This smaller version is still made of glass and mirrors the larger bottle perfectly.
Normally with a rye whiskey, there are a lot of peppery or spicy notes, but in this case I actually get more bourbon tones than even the typical Jack Daniels whiskey. There’s a healthy helping of caramel and vanilla with just enough spice underneath to give a hint that there’s something else going on here.
The spirit is smooth and warm, and for the most part it’s pretty much like the original Jack Daniels whiskey. The dominant flavor is the same banana or Hoppes #9 taste (not that I recommend you taste lead solvent, no matter how good it smells) that most recognize as quintessentially Jack Daniel.s However, there’s also a good helping of pepper spice underneath that to add a bit of kick to the spirit.
I’m actually pretty happy with this. I generally like Jack Daniels, and the only complaint I had about that product (the slight bitterness) doesn’t appear to be present here. I think it’s an improvement on the original formula.
With the added ice, the vanilla aroma is significantly stronger and the peppery aroma seems to have faded into the background.
The flavor follows mostly the same pattern, with the peppery spice significantly diminished. Instead, this tastes much more like a traditional bourbon whiskey with some caramel and vanilla notes, not necessarily that banana flavored traditional Jack Daniels whiskey. But in the end, the pepper does return to make for an interesting aftertaste (interesting in the good sense).
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It takes a good rye to make a good old fashioned, and in this case I think it’s a winner. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here, it’s just a great tasting classic old fashioned.
This is where that caramel and vanilla flavor really starts to help the situation. It balances the bitters nicely, and the peppery aspects provide some interesting flavors that make the experience much more enjoyable.
I love when a spirit brings something extra to the party, and in this case the peppery spice in the spirit is just enough extra deliciousness to put it over the top. The vanilla and caramel flavor that are the primary aspects of the rye balance the bitter ginger beer perfectly, and that pepper is like the cherry on top. Or lime wedge, as the case may be.
This might actually be better than the Bulleit Bourbon high rye whiskey version, which I typically prefer. There’s a bit more rye, it seems, to really make that flavor pop and the base whiskey notes are as delicious as anything else.
I’m actually a pretty big fan. I think the Lincoln County process does this spirit wonders, adding layers of flavors and complexity that’s missing from a normal rye whiskey. Add in the fact that it’s a darn good rye to start it makes for a great drink no matter how you take it.
Jack Daniels Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
Owner: Brown-Forman Co.
Production: Lynchburg, TN
Classification: Rye whiskey
Grain bill: 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $33/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Better than the original.