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Review: Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label

The two top selling American Whiskeys are Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label. according to the 2011 Liquor Handbook (via this New York Times article). Jack and Jim sell dramatically more than #3- Evan Williams Black Label, yet I have never taken the time to review them. Today looks like as good a time as any.

Whether you are a Jack or Jim man (or neither!), let’s keep the debates civil shall we.
; ) Cheers!

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $21/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Deep Gold
Nose: Banana taffy, corn oil, vanilla, toffee, crushed rock, wafts of smoke and char. This is a beautiful and I must say, rather distinctive, nose.
Palate: A tad flabby with caramel, banana, and corn syrupy sweetness livened by the emerging punch of baking spices from mid palate. There’s a thread of char that ties everything together from the front entry on towards the finish. While not all that interesting on the palate, it’s quite textural with an almost velvety thick viscosity.
Finish: The finish is moderate in length with corn and caramel anchoring a nice helping of oak.
Overall: Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 is an icon of American Whiskey, and the 4th highest selling spirit on the planet. I’d argue the company’s best decision was finding a guy by the name of Angelo Lucchesi, who got this stuff into the hands of some of Hollywood’s and Entertainment’s hottest stars (like Frank Sinatra) in the 1950′s. That certainly helped to to solidify the brand, and Brown Forman has continued to build on that following. However, I would not classify this as great whiskey. Mind you it’s very good (barely by my scale) stuff and not without it’s virtues – a distinctive nose and a beautiful mouth feel being two that stand out to me. Outside of that, an underwhelming palate undermines the effort, thus keeping it from scoring higher.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)

******

Jim Beam White Label, 40% abv (80 Proof), $19/bottle
Color: Lighter – Deeper Golden
Nose: Baked red apple, corn syrup, vanilla nougat, and wet oak. The aromas are soft and sweet, but also flat.
Palate: Not as cloyingly sweet as the nose gave hints to, but once again it’s as flat as pancake. There’s a vanilla, corn, and caramel party with a bit of dried apple adding fruit character. Towards the end of the sip we finally get some moderately warming cinnamon spice for a welcomed shake-up. The wood begins to emerge as well.
Finish: It continues to liven up with some bitterness from the wood adding interest. The caramel and warming spices fade into a rather clean and tidy finish.
Overall: Here’s the thing – this is a Good/Solid entry level whiskey. If you know someone that’s new to whiskey or bourbon and looking to dip their toe in the water – this would be a great introduction. It’s quite pleasant, mildly spiced, and has traditional bourbon flavors. Even though it’s only 4 years old, it doesn’t taste its youthful age. Jim Beam White Label is a nice casual sipper in a pinch or a versatile mixer, but not a whole lot more.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.3 (Good/Solid)

Between these two whiskeys, it wasn’t very close. Old No. 7 just has a more distinctive aroma and flavor profile, and as a result is a good bit more interesting to sip.

39 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    And yet, the Evan Williams Black comes in much cheaper, at slightly higher proof and a better rating when you reviewed in May, 2011 at 8.4. Heck, you can step up to WT101 for the price of Jack. Much better pour yet.

  2. Andrew – yes and yes on both of those bottles. EW Black is nearly half the price of Jack. If you want something you can sip or mix – I’d go there first. WT 101′s proof point I think shines much better in many cocktails also. So we are in agreement.

  3. Andrew says:

    Perhaps a discussion on the recent rash of lowering alcohol levels in some brands (JD7 and JBW come to mind) down to 80 proof while others stick with more traditional values of 86 proof or more (such as EWB). How does this affect drinkability — sipping or mixing? Are these new “lite bourbons” designed more for mixing? Is this an opportunity for some brands, established or boutique, to breakout in the currently expanding bourbon market?

  4. sam k says:

    Though Jack has gone to 80 proof more recently, it’s been so long for Jim that I can’t even remember his being more than 80 proof (and I’m old!). Anyone know when that happened? I remember the print ads for Jack years ago that read “90 proof by choice.” Not anymore, I guess.

    As go less expensive but better whiskeys, don’t forget Ezra Brooks in that mix. A bit stiffer than Evan at 90 proof, it’s on sale in PA right now for $21 a handle. A bit youthful, but my wife and I have killed two of them this month. I’ll take either over Jack and Jim.

  5. Andrew says:

    Yes, sam k I am, you are right about JBW. Been 80 for as long as I can remember as well now that I have to think about it. WT81 is fairly new I believe. Evan Williams Green, I guess, is Heaven Hill’s foot into that market. WT81 is even listed as a “mixable spirit” in their own info.

  6. JWC says:

    i’m in agreement with andrew – it would have been fairer to compare jd with ewb and i’d take wt 101 over jd any day. rather than comparing apples to oranges, perhaps a better comparison to jd would be george dickel? i’d take dickel over jd. however, i always found both tenn whiskies to be “thin”. i’d take bourbon if given the chance. i don’t mix my liquor with anything other than a drop or two of water so anything that is “thin” has never been favored.

  7. Max says:

    I hear they both make good engine degreasers…..;)

  8. Ryan says:

    Interesting to see you mention bananas. I started getting that as the dominant flavor in Jack recently, though I had never noticed it before. I thought it was maybe because my bottle had been open for a while, but maybe I’m just learning to pick it out now.

    I once bought a 90-proof bottle of Jack at the distillery… good stuff!

  9. Wikipedia says October 2004 as the switch to the current 80 proof. Man, I haven’t had Jack in so long I don’t think I’ve ever tasted the ‘new’ 80 proof!

    Nice reviews Jason, I feel ya on the ‘flat’ flavors/taste of JB. I had the Old Crow Reserve last weekend and had similar thoughts: sweet, dusty, and flat.

  10. dave says:

    Not much of a Jim Beam drinker,but when I do,I like Jim Beam Rye.

    Now for Jack-Black,the only time I drinl it is when restaurant bars or casinos in Las Vegas don’t have George Dickel#12. I usually go to Vegas 2-3, times a year and instead of confusing the cocktail waitress making the rounds at the blackjack(asking for Dickel) I ask for a Jack&Coke. Not the best,but it’ll do at 3am in the casinos.

    Dave in Oklahoma

  11. Eric S. says:

    I can drink either one…. if I have no other choice.

    Jack Black is something of a mystery to me. I can’t for the life of me figure out why it has such a huge cult following. It’s by no means a bad whiskey… it just isn’t that special. I guess the Rock Star/Biker/Bad Boy thing goes a long way…lol.

    I don’t hate Beam products like a lot of people do, but I’d rather spend a few more bucks on the Black label.

    I’d take EWB over either of them, given the choice.

  12. James Mays says:

    I too like the Ezra Brooks sam k. They released a 15 year old back around 1985 and I was lucky enough to find one on the shelf. I looked everywhere for more after the first taste but to no avail. It was called Old Ezra 15 Year Old Sippin’ Whiskey. Does anyone remember it?

  13. JDW says:

    Both of these products have become largely inseparable from their commercial and cultural lore and many of us have almost instinctual like or dislike for one or both. The same goes for super-premium bourbon. Champions will tout the virtues of Hirsch or Pappy 23, while detractors dismiss these icons as overpriced and overhyped. Looking past price, the real question remains: is this whiskey good whiskey? Without waxing too Socratic, we have to consider what this question means for us and whether it can be answered objectively or just subjectively? We all know what we like and dislike but why do we like and dislike it? Is it the whiskey itself or the cultural accretions (as with JD or PVW or Scotch)? Do we like the rough and tumble image of JD or does it repulse us? Do we posit a necessary connection between price or scarcity and quality? Do we have aspirations to rule the world and clutch frisky Brazilian supermodels to our wizened bosoms in our old age? In short, what motivates us to prefer one bourbon or rye or Scotch to another? The best, most pleasant way to pursue these questions is to collect a group of friends and blind (or semi-blind) taste a variety of bourbons and discuss your findings. I think it would be interesting if there were a group of whiskey drinkers analogous to the European Grand Jury, which blind tastes wines. Blind tasting is uncomfortable at first. Your wife might be scrutinizing your palate (i.e., your ability to discern expensive whiskey from the inexpensive stuff), and you might find yourself anxiously wanting to determine what you are drinking rather than engaging with the whiskey and assessing its quality. After all, you would not want to mistake a good bourbon for a great one or vice versa, right? But after you get past the initial anxiety it is quite a bit of fun. If nothing else, you will be able to tell if the bartender gave you the right whiskey or not! After starting a regime of blind tasting over a year ago I find I am much more likely to give a whiskey a fair shake even if I am not blind tasting. JDW

    P.S.—Beam Black and the Small Batch bourbons are a testament to the Beam distillery’s expertise (to say nothing of their off brands) and, admittedly, I like the JD Single Barrel, though I can understand other individuals preferring to lick rainwater off of railroad ties.

  14. theBitterFig says:

    Haven’t had much Jack, a mini a few months ago, don’t remember much to it apart from a lot of charcoal and a little too smooth. Nothing wrong with it (which is almost a problem), ultimately a few dollars overpriced.

    I’ve been sipping my way through Four Roses Yellow Label recently, also in the same class price-wise ($17-$19 where I live). Very warm and friendly, a little bit of spices, doesn’t taste cheap or spirity. Pretty interesting for the price.

    Really seems a shame that Four Roses doesn’t have as much of a presence and wide of a distribution as a lot of other bourbons.

  15. Bmac says:

    I like JD, it’s familiar. However, i also have Jim Beam black label (8yr). Which oddly enough tastes like JD with a string hint of rye spice versus the maple char. If you let the two sit in the glass a few minutes, the Jim Beam black starts to outpace JD.

  16. Eric S. says:

    Sorry for the hijack, but…. am I the only guy here that thinks Four Roses Yellow isn’t that great? I’ve tried and tried to like this stuff, but I just think it’s bland and boring.

  17. Andrew says:

    @ Eric S. – another 80 proof bourbon. Covered by Jason previous:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfF-5IDPSSw

    Perhaps better mixing than sipping.

  18. Eric, no worries on hijacking – Four Roses Yellow was brought up. To me I find it’s brighter flavor, fruitiness, and subtle spice much more interesting than the Jim Beam. It’s just a much more lively whiskey than either of these for my palate. Thanks.

  19. sam k says:

    I’m with you, Eric and Andrew. Maybe I’m spoiled, but there is hardly an 80 proof whiskey on the planet that does it for me anymore. I’m still happy to sip a Dickel No. 8 with you, but I’ll buy the No.12, given the choice.

  20. Michael says:

    For a first time bourbon drinker, please give them something better than Jim Beam.
    I was shocked at how bad Four Roses Yellow Label tasted.

  21. Ben says:

    Happy New Year Jason! Hope you’re keeping well. I splashed out this December and was able to pick up a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 and a Rittenhouse 100 proof from a specialist retailer. Family, friends and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them over the holiday. Never smelled/tasted anything like that rye before. If only I could buy the WT in local stores I’d make it my staple bourbon. Gorgeous stuff. All I can get locally is Jim Beam white.

    To add to what Bmac said about Jim Beam Black, I also like the black version and tried it for the first time years ago. I’ve noticed however that they seem to have dropped the ’8 year’ age statement from the bottle in recent times, making me wonder if they no longer guarantee that amount of time. Has anyone else seen this?

  22. Joshua says:

    Jason,

    Have you tried Early Times 354 yet? I find it a preferable lowershelf bourbon to JB White label. I’d love your thoughts on it.

  23. Joshua, I was not very impressed with the Early Times 354. It’s not bad at all, but it’s also quite average – simple bourbon flavors, and not very distinctive. I’d say it’s in line with JB White Label for my tastes. As you said though, as a mixer or something to sip casually it’s perfectly fine. Thanks for the comment.

  24. Franklin Rabon says:

    One thing I recently found pretty interesting is that legally, Jack Daniels could call itself a bourbon, according to US legal regulations on the term. It uses the requisite amount of corn and process wise it falls in line. There is no legal requirement bourbon be made in kentucky (though obviously it must in order to be branded as kentucky straight bourbon whiskey). Also, a lot of times you see the charcoal filtering cited as a reason that JD is not bourbon, but Evan WIlliams uses a nearly identical process as JD does and is obviously considered bourbon. And if you read the bourbon regulations, there’s no mention of charcoal filtering, or anything else like that, as a disqualifier.

    In fact, while there are requirements to be allowed to be called a bourbon, there is no requirement that something that qualifies as bourbon be labelled as such. If Jack Daniels decided tomorrow that they wanted to call themselves a bourbon maker, and call everything they made bourbon, it would be completely legitimate. They just use the Tennessee Whiskey as a point of differentiation, since that market is substantially less crowded than the bourbon market.

    So, in one sense, all of us bourbon snobs who endlessly point out that JD and Dickel aren’t bourbon have been endlessly harping on a purely marketing point.

    Any rebuttals or thoughts on this?

  25. Franklin Rabon says:

    The only issue on whether or not JD could call itself bourbon (which they clearly have no desire to do) is if filtering through sugar maple charcoal, as opposed to activated charcoal, constitutes ‘adding flavoring’ and not just filtering.

  26. Jamie says:

    maybe beam could make a small batch white. 2 recent 1/2 pints one was fresher, light oak, bread note, dusty nice smell. the other too oaky and strong. white is ok. you wont get a kick. Just a light simple whiskey is good at times. I’m keen to try a white vintage. they are pricey though. In Australia beam is cut to 37%.

  27. Jamie says:

    just tried a 60′s vinatge beam white. Totally different. Like an entire different warehouse or process. No rough edges. It’s all about this old pine dusty wood while being as light as a feather. You can breath this out you nose and mouth it just sits it the mouth so long. I do like modern white cause it so light but it could be better. I under if the 100 proof is better.

  28. iskch1 says:

    Jason, you can tell the difference between White label vs Green label (choice) camp. I was lucky to get Green label for less than the white label. Funny but true. The Green J.B has more flavor then the white label.

  29. Bill launius says:

    Recently was introduced to Basil Hayden by a local restaurant owner who enjoys different tastes, and has a great liquor salesman. Please give me your opinion of this great ” small batch” .

    Thanks
    Bill

  30. Dawn says:

    Jason, We just tried the JB White Label and Black Label whiskies for the first time ever. Have you tried the Jim Beam Black (8 year) ? The white label was pretty simple and easy to forget. Just too much reliance on sweet corn in the mouth for me. For mixing I didn’t care for it at all either, and it was too dull for sipping. The black label was a very much improved pour for sipping, still smooth and fat and easy, but also having enough lift and punch on the finish so as to not disappear in our usual Winter cocktails. For me, neither one called me as strongly as the counterpoints in the Evan Williams lineup (Black label here the cheaper, and the White label the reasonably priced sipper).

  31. Derrick Mead says:

    This is my Bouron beginner opinion so take it as such. JD is a bit too sweet, and aromatic for my untrained palatte. With its smoky, woodsy kick, JBW is outstanding.

    JB Devils Cut is a bit too raw for my taste. Anthing out there that would build upon JBW?

  32. Dawn says:

    @ Derrick Mead: I’m only thirty Bourbons or so into my own journey through the dark side, but I could recommend three possibles for under $20/bottle each. 1) another gentle Bourbon from the same house, in the same style, with more intensity and a longer finish, Jim Beam – Double Aged “Black Label” (8 year). Or 2) Evan Williams Black Label, my favorite Bourbon for under $14. Or 3) A Tennessee whiskey that stretches the pure corn grain aspect of JBW fully another step up (or two) in aromatic interest, power and flavor. Happy tasting …

  33. Dawn says:

    @Derrick Mead, again. I hit POST too early. The Tennessee whiskey I meant to recommend to you is George Dickel #12.

  34. Iskch1 says:

    @ Derrick Mead: Try the 7 year old J.B.W. Careful. Looks similar to the white label but the only difference is the red cap and small print of 7 years. Taste wise I.M.O is smoother than the 4 year old and not as sweet like the 5 year (green label 5 yr. version).

    Jason, any future reviews for the forgotten J.B 5 & 7 versions in the future?

  35. Ovi says:

    I’m getting drunk much faster from jim beam comparing to jack because Jim sweetnes

  36. Andy H says:

    I hadn’t tasted Jack Black since 1978. At a recent function, they had an open bar and Old No. 7 and a few others were available. I’ll preface my next remark that I usually drink a Kentucky bourbon on the rocks with a little water — or mix an Old Fashion. However, I ordered a Jack and Coke at the function and really liked it. So I picked up a bottle for those times when I feel like a bourbon and Coke, usually when I’m a little thirsty and have to refrain from drinking too fast. For all purists out there, don’t be a hater because of this observation.

  37. Petri P. says:

    I tasted Jack for the first time in 15 years, and honestly it was more awful that I anticipated. It’s everything that bourbon shouldn’t be and much much worse than jim beam or any other cheaper bourbon I’ve ever tasted. I think I’ll stick to Jim and his distant scottish relatives. :)

  38. I think you hit the nail on the head for Jim Beam White with “flat as pancake.” It’s really not bad, but just sort of boring. I’m interested to hear you think Early Times 354 is similar. I’d been wanting to try the stuff, but now I might postpone that purchase.

  39. Roger Martinez says:

    Jim Beam and coke has been my drink of choice since early adulthood. The smokey woody taste really does it for me. Jack is a good back up because a lot “upper” crust establishments don’t have Jim Beam.

    By the way, I mix cream soda with Beam. Delicious. I call it a Cream Beam.