Jack Daniels is one of those names that is the stuff of legend. More than any other brand worldwide Jack says ‘America’ wrapped in the Red ,White and Blue. So when the folks at Jack Daniels come knocking, you answer the door with Southern hospitality in mind.
The Jack Daniel Distillery is the oldest licensed distillery in the United States, dating back to 1866. Now owned by Brown-Forman (sales through 3rd quarter 2010: 2.5 billion), who also owns brands such as Chambord, Finlandia, Fetzer Wines, Herradura, and Southern Comfort, the J.D. brand now includes ready-to-drink cocktails, barbecue sauce, a massive amount of licensed product, along with a number of Jack Daniels whiskey varieties.
We were gathered at the MGM to sample the latest offering from Mr. Daniels, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. Billed as a honey liqueur, the bottle is the same shape as No. 7 (black label) and features a white label with a stylized honey bee. Honey and No. 9 are in every bottle. Tennessee Honey is an entry into the flavored liqueur market already entered by competitors Jim Beam (Red Stag) and Wild Turkey (American Honey). This market entry is a difficult one for any whiskey brand, based perhaps on feminization of the brand, as well as a move away from the specialized and more matured market entries of the last few decades such as Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel. The beverages are entry level, sweet, and feature little heat despite the high alcohol content (70 proof for JD, 80 proof for Red Stag and 71 proof for American Honey). In other words an excellent item for rocks, shooters and, especially, for making Sweet Tea. Southern hospitality without Sweet Tea is like Christmas without Santa Claus, incidentally.
Jack Daniels pulled out all of the stops with their Southern hospitality. The first day of the event we met at the MGM Skylofts. The suite was unbelievable, with an incredible view and beautiful furnishings. At 10K a night, these suites surpass any resort expectations and feature Bulthaup kitchens and bathrooms complete with sauna. Meeting us was second generation Jack Daniels Master Taster Jeff Norman, who guided us through the Jack Daniels brands.
Jack Daniels, located in Lynchburg, Tennessee, is a huge operation. Sitting on an estimated 1.8 million barrels stacked 5 or 6 high, the distillery provides the world (133 countries and counting) with their premium labels, including No. 7 (80 proof, black label), Gentleman Jack (80 proof), Single Barrel (94 proof), Silver Select ( 100 proof, Single Barrel, Export Market only) and Green Label (80 proof, a less mature variant of No. 7). With an average age time of 6.5-7.5 years, assume about a 14% turnover yearly. With 250-300 bottles from each barrel, you do the math. Hint: there are a lot of bottles being produced for thirsty J.D. drinkers worldwide.
Jack Daniels uses nomenclature such as ‘maturation’ rather than aging and ‘mellowing’ rather than filtration. The firm uses American White Oak barrels and ‘mellows’ the aged whisky through a good 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal (once or twice, depending on the brand). “There is a difference between aging and maturing,” says Mr. Norman.
There is also a clear difference between the labels. No. 7 has lots of oak and heat, and has the Jack flavor we have all come to know. Gentleman Jack has been ‘mellowed’ twice (before and after maturation), and has less oak and more intense fruitiness with less burn than the No. 7. Of course my favorite would be the Single Barrel. Taken from the top of the warehouse, where the ambient temperature reaches an extreme, where the whiskey interacts more with the char of the oak barrel. The Single Barrel is loaded with flavors of pepper, spice and fruit.
That evening we had an excellent dinner at Tom Colicchio’ Craftsteak, also at MGM. I was seated at a table with Critic Max Jacobson and Critic Al Mancini, both of whom were overshadowed by the beauty of both booze aficionado (and editor) Xania Woodman and our hostess J.D.’s P.R. director Andrea Duvall. Craftsteak, known for its fine whiskey collection, kept us magically supplied with Jack Daniels throughout the evening.
There has been some mention in the press about the unreliable quality of Craftsteak. This evening the food and service were way above expectations.
After dinner we proceeded to a Tennessee Honey themed party at Tabu Nightclub, with entertainment provided by a trio of blondes with violins. When their “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” performance began I knew it was time to hail a cab and get home. I had work in the morning.
The next day we met again at Tabu in the MGM Grand to do side-by-side tasting against the aforementioned competitors and watch local mixologists compete making cocktails with Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. The competition among the Red Stag, American Honey, and Tennessee Honey was not a pretty one. I immediately disqualified Red Stag for having a horrible odor that rendered it undrinkable. It was supposed to be black cherry flavored, a dangerous no-man’s land between medicine and fruit flavor. Perhaps Red Stag would be interesting as a mixer, but I would prefer maceration of fresh black cherries, or maybe a splash of Robitussin with whatever you have on the far bottom shelf, sir.
The comparison between Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey and Wild Turkey American Honey is not as simply put. Both liqueurs are sweet and redolent with honey and caramel. The American Honey has more of a bite, with a bit more of the bourbon overtone that I was hoping for. I liked the amber hue of the Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey better. A beautiful pour that glows in the light. I am a bourbon drinker, however, and these products are simply not made for my palate. I was a bit impressed that neither liqueur unpleasantly coated my mouth, something that usually occurs with very sweet liqueurs. My opinion is that the Tennessee Honey fits the bill as an excellent introduction for someone unfamiliar with No. 7, and would be a great addition for a suitable celebration. The packaging is excellent, and it is an excellent product that well suits its purpose and market. Perfect for the upcoming wonderful days of Spring and Summer.
A toast from Jeff Norman, Jack Daniels’ Master Taster:
To the man Jack Daniels,
To his whiskey,
To his Legend.
The Bee’s Tea
1 ½ oz. Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey
Fill with sweet tea (iced tea sweetened with simple syrup, honey or agave nectar)
1 wedge of lemon – squeezed
Shake ingredients and strain into an ice filled tall glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Suggestion from the editor: add simple syrup to taste. Tennessee Honey is already sweet.
Jack’s Honey Ginger
1½ ounce Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey
1/4 ounce Lime Juice (or one squeezed lime)
Combine ingredients in a tall glass over ice. Top with Ginger Beer or Ginger Ale.
Garnish with a lime wedge. Sip, Relax and Refresh.
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