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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.

Gentleman Jack Whiskey Review

This, interestingly, may be one of the top five requests for review that I get. What can you say about the good Gentleman Jack? Why don’t we start with a little background.

First, despite what many think, it is not a requirement that all Tennessee Whiskey undergo a charcoal filtration process (known as the Lincoln County Process) in order to be called Tennessee Whiskey. Unlike bourbon, regulations and standards for calling something “Tennessee Whiskey” are very loose at best. However, most associate Tennessee Whiskey with the charcoal filtering largely because the two biggest producers of “brown water” in my home state, Jack Daniels and George Dickel, follow this process. In previous reviews I’ve discussed the differences in the way Jack and Dickel do this. Let’s run through this one more time.

George Dickel chills their distillate down before passing it through large vats of charcoal sandwiched between giant wool blankets. Jack Daniels does not chill their distillate down, instead allowing the distillate to be filtered right off the still. Both of these processes take a hell of a long time (trickle by trickle), and one is not right or wrong. They are both just different approaches that yield two very different flavor profiles. Jack Daniels, from Old No. 7 on up through Single Barrel has a much smoother, cleaner front entry (front of the palate) on the sip than George Dickel. Sip them side by side and the differences will jump out at you.

How does this process of filtration affect flavor? When a distillate comes off the still it contains substances called congeners that do a number of things. They CAN add off flavors to the spirit if the spirit contains certain types of congeners. They can also add stronger, more pronounced desired flavors to a whiskey. Over time, the barrel the whiskey is aged in does a number on these congeners, softening and rounding them out through the expansion and contraction of the wood. The barrel can also filter some of them out as well.

The charcoal filtration process gives the distillate a bit of a head start. Charcoal is a natural filtering agent, absorbing stronger congeners to help ensure the finished product is as smooth as possible. However, charcoal doesn’t have a dial on it allowing you to, “only filter out the bad stuff”. Because of this – you do lose some of the body and impactful flavors from the distillate. This is one of the knocks on this process.

What if you charcoal filtered a whiskey twice you might wonder. Well, you’d have Gentleman Jack. That’s exactly what the Jack Daniels Distillery does to make this very smooth, clean whiskey. Let’s give it a test drive……..

Gentleman Jack Whiskey, 40%abv/80 proof, $29
Color: Deep Golden Amber
Nose: The nose is the absolute highlight of this whiskey. Cinnamon red apple, vanilla, honeysuckle, floral fragrance, toasted oak, and dry corn husk.
Palate: Vanilla, corn, mildly spiced honey, golden raisin, and prickle of pepper. It comes off extremely thin and watery on the palate.
Finish: Light, and clean as a whisper. There’s a tinny note on the finish along with corn and moderate oak.
Overall: As noted, the nose is incredible, but it’s a bit of a letdown from there. The palate is diluted and lacks concentration of flavor. Let’s understand however that this whiskey has been filtered twice. It’s designed to be a clean, smooth whiskey. Execution was extremely well done in that regard. And while this is definitely good whiskey, for flavor hounds there is so so much better out there for the money.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.5 (Good/Solid)

Tennessee Whiskey Review: Jack Daniels Single Barrel and George Dickel Barrel Select

Jack Daniels Single Barrel, 47%/94 Proof $45
Jack Daniels has one of the most distinctive flavor profiles in whiskey. The Lynchburg, Tennessee distillery’s single barrel effort is the same profile ramped up a few levels, particularly in the wood department. The deep amber, copper-red hued Tennessee Whiskey is thick and viscous in the glass. The nose is a all sweet and oak: huge caramel and vanilla, toasted oak and cedar, as well as floral aromas. Burnt cinnamon sugar and cocoa help make for a dark, sultry aroma. The flavors on the palate are sturdy and firm, again with tremendous weight. In spite of that, the front half of the sip is a bit flat, eventually evolving as vanilla infused caramel, black pepper, wood spices, and charcoal towards the finish. Oak, a resinous grippy quality, and dry spices dominate the finish. Jack Daniels Single Barrel is a very well made whiskey hurt a bit by a lack of balance and a slow development of flavors on the palate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

George Dickel Barrel Select, 43%/86 Proof $39
It’s no secret that George Dickel plays second fiddle to Jack Daniels when it comes to production and notoriety. Heck take a look at Dickel’s parent company’s (Diageo) website. Regardless, the little distillery in Cascade Hollow (Tullahoma), Tennessee continues to put out some excellent products. Take for example their Barrel Select, which is the name for the distillery’s small batch of select barrels. It’s light amber/deep gold in hue with a nose of corn mash, sweet tobacco, honey, canned pineapple, and maple syrup wrapped around a core of oak and leather. It’s a special nose! On the palate this whiskey continues with the well rounded theme. Honeyed dried apricots, caramelized nuts, big corn, vanilla, and spearmint lead to a solid punch of splintered fresh oak. The finish is all corn, warming wood spices (cinnamon and allspice), and honey. George Dickel Barrel Select is a superb whiskey with balanced flavors of fruit, corn, wood, and spices. It’s too bad those morons from Diageo continue to treat it like a red headed stepchild, because the whiskey Dickel produces is some of the best in the country for the dollar.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

George Dickel No 12 (White Label) Tennessee Whisky

George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky, 45% abv(90 Proof), $19/bottle

George Dickel No. 12 was a major shock to the system honestly. And I’m not sure why because many folks are devoted drinkers of the stuff, including my late (and great) grandparents. But this is a lesson that a higher price does not equate to a better product. In the case of George Dickel No. 12, that’s absolutely true. This amber/copper Tennessee Whisky (Dickel prefers to use the traditional Scottish spelling, losing the “e”) smells of pungent sweet corn, honey, dried fruits (apricots/raisins), scant vanilla, and some floral notes. The first sip is where this whisky shows it’s stuff with well integrated sweetness of honey and vanilla, sweet corn and grain, followed by mint and toasted oak. Wonderfully soft but, layered, persistent, and full of flavor – almost elegant. The finish is sweetly spiced with long and lingering oak and vanilla. A beautiful pour of whisky that makes Tennessee proud. This may be one of the top 2-3 whiskys under $20 on the planet. Mr. Dickel (and my grandparents) would be proud.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)