Much like Josh recently, I’ve hopped across the Atlantic with this review and can now imagine myself in deepest Tennessee on a warm, quiet spring evening with a Jack Daniel’s being poured into a cut crystal glass next to the Mississippi river. Or in a UK nightclub at 2am, absolutely hammered, with a plastic cup and JD and Coke sloshing everywhere. I don’t think any other whiskey finds itself at home in both extremes quite like Jack Daniel’s does.
Although Jack Daniel’s qualifies as a bourbon – no mean feat considering the number of regulations you have to tick before permission is granted – the folks at the distillery insist they’re a Tennessee sour mash whiskey. (We’re also talking whiskey with an ‘e’ here because we’re not in Scotland or Japan. Pedantic, I know.) Sour mash whiskey, to cut a long story short, operates on roughly the same principle as sourdough bread. Some older mash is used to start the fermentation process and it creates the right pH levels for the yeast to get to work. Now I bet you don’t think of that in the middle of the dancefloor. Well I do. (I jest, honest…)
It’s actally not the ‘sour mash’ bit that Jack Daniel’s believe distinguishes themselves from a bourbon. Their whiskey is filtered through 10ft of sugar maple charcoal before being placed into white oak casks, and it’s this extra step that thus apparently makes them a ‘Tennessee whiskey’. I’ve never before treated JD with the care that I’m doing so now, mainly because it’s not the done thing in a club: carefully nosing it left and right, eyes closed and nodding one’s head – you get the picture.
Jack Daniel’s nose – and I mean the whiskey, not the man – is surprisingly sweet, with almonds and marzipan played off against a pleasant maple quality. It’s not a nose you could guess, especially if you know the whiskey solely through its taste. Indeed, on the palate it is somewhat harsher and it’s here that the charred casks have an impact. The maple is there too, but it struggles to reassert the confidence that it displayed in the nose. After a kick of alcohol, the finish arrives, although if you blink you’ll miss it. It’s not long at all, yet if you drink enough of the whiskey, it’ll eventually sustain itself long enough for the marzipan to offer a brief ‘hello’. It’s pleasant enough, but it’ll never coat the mouth in a fine orchestral arrangement of flavours like some other whiskies do.
It sounds a tough review, but I’ll always have a soft spot for JD, essentially because this was the first whiskey I ever drank; the cherry popper, so to speak. And, simply put, without Jack Daniel’s there wouldn’t be a Cask Tales (now there’s a sobering thought in every sense…). So in that regard it’s tough to clinically rate something that carries with it a certain air of nostalgia and, as such, the numbers here ought not to do the talking.
Nose 17 Taste 16 Finish 15 Balance 15