What always strikes me as interesting is that some distilleries or brands are most famous for an entry level drink, which is utter crap compared to everything that comes after.
As in, Johnnie Walker is a pretty solid brand, but compared to all of their products, the Red Label is pretty shit. The same goes for Jack Daniel’s, or at least, that’s the reputation of Jack Daniel’s in whisky fanatic’s circles.
A little while ago I decided to put that assumption to the test and see whether the ‘Old No. 7’ is as bad as we like to think it is, and whether all the other expressions are significantly better than it.
So, for this I got myself more Jack Daniel’s than I’ve ever had in the past. That’s not a high bar by any means, but an interesting deep dive. Of course, virtually ever other product they release is a single barrel whereas Old No. 7 is not, so there tend to be batch varieties. However, I like to think that JD also likes to keep differences limited, as to have a more predictable product an appeal to return customers.
So, 7 Jack Daniel’s, incoming!
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, 40%
Very sweet with hints of glue and banana. It’s quite young. Some charred wood, quite simple. A hint of wood spices too.
The palate is really thin, and quite harsh. Glue, charcoal dust, unripe banana peels, charred wood, new oak.
It has the typical bourbon sweetness with quite some banana on top of it. The charry notes remain.
Even though it’s considered pretty shit, it’s actually a bit better than that. Also, it’s welcoming in a rather nostalgic way. Even though I hadn’t had it in years, it’s recognizable and brings back some memories.
On the other hand, it doesn’t have much to offer in sense of complexity or depth. So, while it’s not a ‘bad whisky’, it’s also not interesting at all.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select, Cask 20-06701, 45%
Glue, some oak, quite a lot of banana, nail polish remover with a lot of sweetness. Some wood spices with cinnamon and tree bark.
Quite rich (especially compared to the Old No. 7), with more hints of oak, dry corn and other cereal. Still some banana, but less pronounced than on the nose. Rather dry, with more spices.
The finish has some red cinnamon heat, with a hint of woody pepper.
It’s quite comparable to the Old No. 7, except that the balance of flavors is much better, and there’s a LOT more intensity. It’s like a massive step up. Like a professional chef making a meal with the same ingredients as an amateur cook.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel 100 Proof, Traveler’s Exclusive, Cask 18-4703, 50%
The similarities are the glue and the charred oak. There’s still a whiff of banana, but again, somewhat less than before. On top of that there’s some barbecue char, a bit of acetone. Golden syrup on steroids, almost like molasses.
The palate is incredibly dry and suddenly brings some chili heat on top of the previously present white pepper. Charcoal dust, a whiff of barbecue smoke, grilled banana, golden syrup. Cinnamon sticks, and quite some oak. Still pretty sweet but the wood dominates a bit more.
The finish initially turns the heat up a notch, before making it a comfortable experience. There’s some bite, with pepper and cinnamon, and tree bark. Hints of barbecue like charcoal dust. The fruit is pushed back a little bit, but there’s still that familiar hint of banana.
This is starting to be really good, and not just because we’re three drinks in on an Tuesday night! The dryness keeps the sweetness in check, and allows for a lot more depth than in the 90 proof version. More spices, more woody notes. Good stuff!
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye, Cask 20-06383, 45%
Again, quite a recognizable whiff of glue. Menthol, rye spices, mint, moss. Quite some dry oak on the familiar backdrop from before. It’s consistent with the rest, but adds the typical rye flavors. Barbecue char, sawdust.
The palate is a bit more syrupy than I expected, but suddenly amps up the chili pepper. Oak, peppery heat, wood spices, menthol cigarettes, barbecue char. A tad thin compared to the 100 proof that came before.
The finish is quite long, but does become a bit thin soon. Dusty sawdust, menthol cigarettes. Towards the end there’s a flavor and dryness in line with Earl Grey tea.
Even though we took a step back in the ABV, the intensity of the spices and rye make up for that. It’s interesting that there are notes of tea and cigarettes. It makes for a surpringly drinkable concoction of flavors and quite a good bottle of whisky!
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye, Cask 20-03290, 45%
Rich and complex with spices and herbs. Oak, candied orange and caramel. Charcoal, a whiff of paint that strangely adds some complexity.
It starts with a bit of peppery bite, but it’s not sharp, just intense. There’s sticky caramel, rye spices and bread. Oak, barbecue char and some brown sugar.
The finish is a tad short, and mellows quickly. Caramel and brown sugar linger, with oak, barbecue char and candied orange again. Some dark rye bread towards the end too.
This is the sample that kick-started the deep dive, after Norbert sent it to me for a tasting. I’m glad he did since this is a very solid whisky and the best of the bunch. The depth of flavors and complexity is quite something, and the ABV allows for a nice sit-down to explore it all.
Jack Daniel’s Bottled in Bond, Traveler’s Exclusive, 50%
Instead of a note of glue, there’s a bit of turpentine, or paint if you will. There’s the obvious note of banana, but it’s more like ‘banana flavor’ (by that, I mean it’s the artificial banana flavor that doesn’t taste like banana, but everyone knows to associate it with it). A touch of mint, oak and pop-corn.
The palate is nicely dry, with more focus on the oak and some black pepper. Dry corn flour, sawdust and a touch of cigar tobacco. The paint like note is still here but it’s small. A cherry stone bitterness too.
The finish is dry and a bit papery. A hint of cardboard with corn flour, and banana crisps.
This one sits, in levels of ‘interestingness’ between the Single Barrel 45% and 50% of before. It does show the banana character of Jack Daniel’s and still is a massive step up from the Old No. 7, but isn’t an overly captivating drink.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Barrel Strength, Cask 20-06226, 64.5%
Someone turned on the afterburner!
It’s a bit hot at first. Not even that it scorches, but it’s a tad overpowered by the ABV. More crisp, more woody, but also a different kind of sweet. Not as chemical, more wood sweetness, more spirit sweetness. Quite a lot banana again.
This is bone dry and gets very hot, very quickly. Lots of leather, as in, my mouth turns to leather. Almonds and bitter oak, lots of banana again. With a drop of water there suddenly are some marachino cherries.
The finish brings quite some fruit with cherries and banana. Some almond like bitterness, even. Lots of oak, and compared to the palate rather agreeable.
While there’s a lot to be discovered, I do think the ABV gets in the way of the depth and character of the whisky a little bit. Of course, I could start to muck about with water, but I tend to take whisky ‘as it comes’. In this case, that might not be the smartest approach, since 64.5% is a lot.
Honestly, that was a fun night, when JPH and I tried five of these. The ‘other’ rye was the one that kick-started it all, and was also the best of the bunch.
I still think it’s remarkable that the Old No. 7 isn’t more interesting, or better if you will. They can apparently output some really good whiskies, but apparently the world is satisfied with the least of it.