After some in-depth – very – experience with fine Canadian whisky recently, I thought I would revisit American whiskey. I wrote about many historical aspects of it earlier this year, but hardly about its taste.
A current iteration is Single Barrel Select of Jack Daniel’s, a primo version first issued in 1997. At 47% abv, it is close to the pre-Prohibition 100 proof Jack Daniels (although Jack Daniel’s was always available in different ages and proofs). That 100 proof version can still be bought overseas, or in duty free for international passengers. While excellent, I think I prefer the Single Barrel Select which seems heavier in body – with alcohol being lighter than water, the higher in proof you go, the less full the body can be, no less true for being counter-intuitive.
This website gives further details on the brand, its sales, and the truly select nature of the bottlings as under one per cent of inventory is deemed fit for the purpose.
The other thing about Single Barrel Select, something intended by Brown-Forman, an old name in U.S. distilling, is the variation between each barrel. Given the slightly different position of each in the warehouse – even if all are from the upper reaches of the structure – the whiskey in each barrel differs. Probably the main factor is the wood staves of each barrel can never be identical in composition and so aging proceeds somewhat differently for each barrel.
The company claims through chromatographic and other analyses to know and be able to replicate the chemical “footprint” of its whiskey. I have no doubt of that, but even still the palate of some single barrels strays quite a bit from the “norm”. I would define the norm as Old No. 7 or Jack Daniel’s Black Label. This tends to be a warm spicy drink infused with a scent and taste of yellow fruits, often but not always banana. I like that taste although it did take me years to accustom. But I most prefer the Single Barrels that depart from it. Many don’t, but the one pictured, barrel 16-3258 bottled on May 12 of this year is one of the outliers.
The colour is deep amber, maybe a shade darker than most Single Barrels, with russet glints in certain lights. The odour is mild, mainly medicinal. The taste is full-bodied – often Jack can be on the light side in body- and slightly creosote/sweet/smoky with wintergreen notes. It’s very good, more in this case like some bourbon. No yellow fruit notes here at all.
That is the taste I really like in Jack, just a little is enough, an ounce. I like it neat but a cube would do it no harm.
One of the mysterious things about the brand is, if you buy a second bottle with the same barrel number, it may well taste slightly different or have a different texture to the first. This could be down to which part of the barrel you got (even after filtration), or perhaps the water used to dilute the next bottle varied a shade in composition from what came before. Perhaps even the cork in each bottle has a subtle effect on taste or texture as each cork again will have slight differences of origin or other properties. It’s all good.