I must confess to Jack Daniels having a special place in my heart. Not considered much of anything amongst serious single malt drinkers, it´s still the rock ´n´roll whiskey, making it undeniably cool to the twenty-something rock fan that I was when I first came in contact with it. No lover of rock ´n´ roll could have escaped the lure of this easily recognizable brand. It´s very easy to imagine Keith Richards in front of a microphone with his guitar, a bottle of Jack dangling from one hand and a cigarette in the other.
I´ve never used it for mixing cocktails or in Jack ´n´Coke or something like that, instead always enjoying it in a tumbler with a single ice cube. Something of a guilty pleasure, you could say, just like the old Eurythmics albums I keep stacked in the back of my vinyl LP collection. Maybe not that hip, but still definitely enjoyable.
Jack Daniels Old No.7 Brand, 80 proof (40%).
The Jack Daniels distillery was established in 1866, making it the oldest in America and claiming to still make it´s famous Old No.7 Brand precisely as it´s always been done. A Tennessee whiskey crafted from cool, iron-free water from their own spring, with a sour mash based on corn with an addition of rye and malted barley, mellowed by dripping through 10 feet of maple charcoal before maturing in barrels of new white oak, made and charred at the distillery. No specified time of barrel maturation is said to be needed, “it´s ready when it´s ready”. Whiskey from different barrels are blended to give a consistent taste and quality.
So, how does it taste? Let me begin by saying that this is not a very demanding whiskey to drink. A nice, fairly light colour with a nose that´s also on the light side. Sweet and with notes of caramel and vanilla, with just the slightest hint of charcoal smoke. A second sniff gives you pretty strong banana notes. Straight, in a tasting glass, you get a very smooth and mellow drink, with some fresh oak and distinct caramel and vanilla notes, followed by a finish dominated by sweetness. In a tumbler with an ice cube the sweetness is more marked and some fruitiness appears. This description might give the faulty impression that Jack Daniels is an unremarkable drink, which is not my opinion at all. I really like this whiskey and while it´s quite light and pleasing from the first sip, it still holds a certain measure of complexity. Of course, it can´t be compared to a 25 year old Highland Park, but that´s not really what it´s about is it? I would say that it´s perfectly possible for the same person to enjoy both the Allman Brothers Band and Radiohead´s latest.
Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 12 years old, 94 proof (47%).
Produced by the large Heaven Hill distillery, this straight Bourbon was named after the Reverend Elijah Craig (1738 – 1808), who has been claimed to be the first to make true Kentucky Bourbon, after storing his whiskey in barrels that had been accidentally charred in a fire. Be that as it may, you don´t have to believe this story to try the whiskey. It is marketed as a small batch Bourbon, coming from a dump of not more than 100 barrels. If that´s really to be considered small batch can of course be discussed, but let´s not be overly elitist here.
In this day and age where packaging and design is becoming more and more important, Elijah Craig is either an anti-statement or just plain old fashioned. Everything about this bottle looks cheap and uninteresting, not that different from the generic rum I once bought back in the eighties in a Prague government store. That said, drinking the contents of the bottle will make you happier than looking at it. Here we have a whiskey with the light amber colour that could be expected from 12 years of barrel maturation (I haven´t found any information about the presence or absence of artificial colourings, so let´s believe in a natural process for the time being). The nose carries a strong and full sweetness with no sharpness of alcohol whatsoever, along with vanilla and banana toffee. Tasting it straight reveals more of the sweetness and a certain creaminess in the medium long finish. Toasted oak is evident, combined with a hint of vanilla. Iced in a tumbler the oak is played down and a discrete aniseed or liquorice tone develops. Not sure that ice really improves on this whiskey, unlike what I´ve found during the years for Jack Daniels. There is a definite Bourbon character to this brew that I enjoy, even though the likes of Woodford and Blanton´s reach much higher in that respect. Not sure I´m going to buy this again, but let´s see.
Rebel Reserve, Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 90,6 proof (45,3%).
William Larue Weller (1825 – 1899) initiated the use of wheat instead of rye in the mashbill of Bourbon whiskey, which of course had to contain at least 51% corn. Now several other types of wheated Bourbon exists, and the WLW brand has been sold to the Sazerac Company. Rebel Yell and it´s sister whiskey Rebel Reserve is currently produced by the Heaven Hill distillery. Claiming to be hand-crafted in small batches my particular bottle is number 53 549 from batch 1 065. Seems like industrial production trying to mimic artisanal. Wheated Bourbon definitely has a different character compared to the others, whether you like it or not is a different story. An earlier tasting of Rebel Yell that I did found it to be entirely unremarkable. Rebel Reserve however is marketed as the more exclusive alternative, with more bells and whistles. It shows a light amber colour, probably consistent with its undisclosed time of barrel maturation. The nose carries a distinct alcohol sharpness that almost completely displaces tones of oak and caramel. Tasting it straight will show you a pretty decent wheat character, but not so much else. Unfortunately this whiskey is fairly one-dimensional and severely lacking in complexity. The finish is short and unsatisfying and not something that will get you excited. Tasting it in a tumbler with an ice cube doesn´t really change anything. There is a definite lack of character here that can´t be overlooked. Not something that I´m going to return to.