Category Archives: Tennessee Whiskey

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

011Another WhiskyFest has come and gone, filling the masses with a smorgasbord of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, and a little bit of everything else. There was nothing not to like in San Francisco this year, with the masses gobbling up the west coast introduction of Yellow Spot, a rare showing from Stranahan’s, and a surprise appearance of Balblair 1975 and — unlisted in the program — Balblair 1969. The only bummer: An utter dearth of independent Scotch bottlers. No Samaroli, no Gordon & MacPhail, no Duncan Taylor. Bring back the indies in 2015! (Also, the line for Pappy Van Winkle is now getting full on ridiculous.)

Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

Balblair Vintage 1975 2nd Release – Bottled 2013; firing on all cylinders, a spicy, seductive malt / A
Balblair Vintage 1969 – Bottled 2012; not as deep in flavor as the 75, but easygoing with a melange of mixed fruit and wood notes / A-
The Glenlivet 21 Years Old – fruit and spice; racy; lots of wood here / A-
The Glenlivet Guardian’s Chapter – a limited NAS release, heavy on the grain, some nuts; drinks young and not terribly impressively / B
Glen Grant Five Decades – very sweet, strawberry notes; lots of sherry / A-
Glenglassaugh 30 Years Old – really, really old; wood has beaten this one up / B
BenRiach Authenticus 25 Years Old – sneaky peat notes; some light cherry in there / B+
GlenDronach Parlianemtn 21 Years Old – good balance between cereal and sherry character / A-
Tullibardine Cuvee 225 Sauternes – ample smoke, sweet BBQ finish / B+
Tullibardine 20 Years Old – lots of smoke, drowns out some distant sweetness / B
Tullibardine 25 Years Old – aged fully in sherry casks, giving this a striking citrus finish and a sultry body / B+
Compass Box Great King Street, Artists Blend – extremely chewy; spice and cinnamon with a long-lasting finish / B+

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2014 – refreshing my memory on a fun whisky; cherry fueled, with dusty wood notes / A-
Old Forester Original Batch 1870 – a new limited edition; austere, a bit winey / B+
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 – lots of spice, some cocoa, good wood structure / A-
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel – had a bit of this on a lark; nicely wooded, with caramel apple notes to follow / B+
Highland Park Freya – we never got to formally review this 3rd release in the Valhalla series, so it was fun to try it here; just a light touch of peat, with solid sherry and vanilla structure; lightly dusty finish / A-
Blanton’s Bourbon – bottled 8/12/14; nutty with cinnamon notes, long, madeira-like finish / A-
Stagg Jr. – I tried this again to see if I could see what the hate was about; 132.1 proof, this is the 3rd edition of the Bourbon; rich with red pepper and cloves, I still think it’s a winner / A-
Bib & Tucker – an upcoming release; I didn’t get a big read on it outside of its big wood character / B
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey – bottled 7/5/12; chewy, drinking young but with pure fruit inside / B+
Sranahan’s Snowflake Mount Snuffles – this bizarre, very rare whiskey is aged in cherry wine barrels (that’s not a typo), which gives this whiskey an overwhelming fruit bomb character, like an out of whack Manhattan; it’s just too much / B

Hakushu 18 Years Old – a well rounded Japanese malt, coffee and chocolate notes on the back end / B+
Hibiki 21 Years Old – gorgeous, sweet and touched with brine / A

Green Spot – light as a feather, clean and spicy / A
Yellow Spot – a much different animal, 12 years old; big sherry and sugary notes; lots to love / A
Midleton Barry Crocket – minty, big tropical notes; long finish; a bit of an odd combination of flavors / B+

Charbay Rum – an upcoming release of navy-style rum (140 proof) distilled in 2005; huge char, fire and brimstone galore / B+
Charbay Direct-Fire Alembic Brandy 1989 – smoke and spice; apples and cherries hit on the finish / A-
Hudson Maple Cask Rye – a special release from our friends in New York; a touch of syrup on grainy base / B
Westland American Single Malt – subtle; mint and chocolate notes / B+
Westland American Single Malt Cask #312 – cask strength release; sherry finished; overpowering with coffee notes, heavy / B-
Kavalan Sherry Cask – tasting racy and a bit raw tonight / B-
Kavalan Vinho Barrique – aged in red and white wine barrels; rasins and port notes, figs / A-
High West Son of Bourye – now a blend of 6 year old Bourbon and 6 year old rye; sweet meets spice in this butterscotchy whiskey / A-

Review: Barrell Bourbon

barrell bourbon

Barrell Bourbon is bottled in the heart of Bourbon Country, in Bardstown, Kentucky… but it’s made somewhere else. That’s what makes this stuff a real rarity: Tennessee Bourbon that’s bottled in Kentucky.

What is known is this: The whiskey is a mash of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, aged for five years. It’s a single barrel release (hence the name), and each bottle is individually numbered and bottled at cask strength — 60.8% abv for batch #1, which is still on the market.

So, how about the whiskey?

There’s corn on the nose, along with notes of cherry, toffee, very ripe banana, and wood char. The body follows suit, with popcorn rising surprisingly high for a five-year-old spirit. It’s heavily wooded with a hefty amount of char, prominently featuring sawdust notes that build as it opens up over time in the glass. Otherwise this is a pretty straightforward and young-drinking whiskey. The fruitier notes you can pick up on the nose remain buried beneath a mountain of lumber and those vegetal, corn-heavy flavors, making my wonder if this whiskey wasn’t bottled too soon… or, perhaps, too late.

Interesting stuff, though, with points for uniqueness.

121.6 proof.

Reviewed: Batch #1, bottled #2313.


Review: Jack Daniel’s Rested Rye

Jack Daniel's Rested Rye - bottle shot

Hey, remember a couple of years ago when Jack Daniel’s decided it was going to make a rye whiskey? Give Jack credit: Rather than simply buy someone else’s rye and put their label on it, Jack decided to make its rye itself, legit.

The catch: Making whiskey takes time, so in 2012, when the rye trend was hitting its stride, all JD had was unaged whiskey on its hands, which it sold. For $50 a bottle.

Fast forward to today, roughly a year and a half later, and Jack… still doesn’t have a finished product. What it does have is a very young rye whiskey, which they’re calling “Rested Rye.” (This is the same mashbill of 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% malted barley.)

That’s probably a good enough descriptor of a noble whiskey that, like the Unaged Rye, no one is going to buy. Here’s why.

The nose offers wet, over-ripe, nearly rotten banana, plus some coconut husk notes. There’s an undercurrent of cereal notes, but little wood as of yet. The body is quite sweet — those bananas don’t pull any punches — with a lengthy finish that wanders into orange juice, clover honey, and cream of wheat territory. Unsatisfying and flabby, I get little spice, no pepper, nothing really approaching classic rye characteristics at all, or the promise of them to come. Believe it or not, I’d much rather drink the white dog than this whiskey as it stands today.

Of course all of that really means very little. This is a work in progress, and as any amateur taster of white dogs can tell you, the white spirit rarely has much resemblance to the finished product, and this “rested” version probably won’t have much in common with the final release either. We’ll see, I suppose, either way, come 2018 or so.

80 proof. Available in limited quantities.

C / $50 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire Bottle

JD jumped into the honey-flavored whiskey market and made massive waves. Why not try it again with cinnamon?

Tennessee Fire is a classic cinnamon-infused spirit, with a nose that’s immediately redolent of Red Hots, but not overpowering. The body is more quiet and candylike than, well, fiery. The palate starts off sweet, with vanilla caramel notes, essentially classic JD, with the attention of some apple cider character in the mid-palate. The cinnamon comes along later, well tempered with plenty of sugar to keep the cinnamon candy notes from searing the roof of your mouth. This is fine — no one is drinking these whiskeys because they enjoy pain — but Jack’s rendition ends up a little over-sweetened, the way too much Equal leaves a funky taste on your tongue.

The bottom line: JD may have mastered honey, and Tennessee Fire is mostly harmless, but I think other cinnamon whiskeys do this style better.

The test launch of “Jack Fire” (as you are invited to call it) begins in April in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

70 proof.

B+ / $22 /

Review: Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon

belle meade bourbonA craft distillery is reborn in Nashville, Tennessee… and they’re putting “the B word” on the label!

Belle Meade is, as the story goes, a relaunch of a pre-Prohibition bourbon brand that was owned by one Charles Nelson. Today, two of his great-great-great grandsons are bringing the brand back, with the goal of producing small batch whiskey that approximates their ancestor’s recipe.

That’s the idea, anyway. At present, this is high-rye, slightly overproof bourbon (no age statement) sourced from Indiana’s MGP, in advance of the Nelsons finishing up their own on-site distillery, hopefully sometime this year. Instead, Belle Meade is something of a first volley to get investors’ — and drinkers’ — palates wet.

As for the juice, it’s got a quite mild nose, offering notes of applesauce, cinnamon, and grapefruit skins alongside straightforward wood barrel character. On the palate, the body is moderate with that rye giving off a lot of baking spice, mint chocolate, and cedar wood planks. On the whole it’s pleasant and balanced but a little on the thin side, coming up just a little short in the power department.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $39 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s White Rabbit Saloon Whiskey

jack daniel's white rabbit saloon

A seasonally-available, limited edition version of JD, White Rabbit Saloon is bottled and named in honor of the 120th anniversary of the White Rabbit Saloon, a Lynchburg bar owned by Jack Daniel himself. There’s no specific information on how this blend differs from Old No. 7, but it is bottled at 86 proof instead of the standard 80.

A softer expression of Jack Daniel’s, White Rabbit has a distinct cookie-like character to it. Think chocolate wafer cookies and milk, with a healthy slug of vanilla to back it up. The higher proof gives the body a little more grip in the mouth, while pushing the sometimes scratchy coal notes of black label JD out of the picture. The finish is lingering and sultry-sweet, offering a marshmallow character in both sweetness and chewiness — with just the barest hint of popcorn on the back end. I like it better than standard Jack quite a bit.

A- / $25 /

Review: George Dickel White Whisky Foundation No. 1

Dickel No. 1 (2)

Just when it seems that everyone who’s anyone in American distilling has launched a white whiskey, well, you realize there’s room for one more.

The latest coming out the gate is Dickel, which is bringing its Tennessee Whiskey — bourbon-style mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, but charcoal-filtered before bottling — to the unaged universe. Appropriately known as George Dickel Foundation No. 1, it’s the base spirit that’s used for all of Dickel’s aged bottlings.

No. 1 doesn’t launch until January 2014, but we got a sneak peek. Thoughts follow.

Pure popcorn, straight from the movie theater holding bin. Some peanut notes add intrigue to the nose, but otherwise this is the essence of corn whiskey. The body is surprisingly easygoing — that charcoal filtering is surprisingly effective at washing away those often overbearing raw alcohol notes — though No. 1 makes few bones about its grainy makeup. Whether you’re thinking about fresh popping corn or chawing on Corn Nuts, the analogy is about the same. Wait, did I mention the corn?

You can really taste the family resemblance between Dickel No. 1 with Dickel No. 8, which makes sense because it’s the youngest and simplest of the aged whiskeys Dickel offers. As the Dickel family gets older in No. 12 and Barrel Select, the vanilla notes driven by the barrel begin to crowd the corniness out.

As for No. 1, it’s a totally worthwhile white dog, and the charcoal filtering is a distinct advantage here. Better yet, it’s  not wildly overpriced like Jack Daniel’s clear offering is. (That said, Dickel rarely costs more than 20 bucks a bottle.) All in all: It isn’t as tasty as the aged stuff — white dog rarely is — but it’s a solid white lightning.

91 proof.

B / $22 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select

sinatra bottle and giftbox 003


Many contemporary drinkers are surprised to hear that Frank Sinatra was a Jack Daniel’s man — through and through, that’s really all the legendary singer drank. But in the revised Sinatra mythos, many now think of Ol’ Blue Eyes as holding a martini, with Jack Daniel’s seen as a commoners’ drink. Back then, that wasn’t the case, of course. Sinatra even kept a stash of JD on his plane and was buried with a bottle when he died.

If you’re forgotten about the Sinatra-JD connection, this special release will remind you of how it all went down. In honor of the legendary crooner, Jack has released a special bottling of Old No. 7. Previously for sale only at travel retail, Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select is now hitting eight major U.S. metro areas in general release. (They are: Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, New Jersey and Tennessee.)

The whiskey is different from standard Jack Daniel’s in a key way: A portion of the spirit is aged in special “Sinatra barrels,” which feature staves that are cut with a sort of “speed bump” pattern of peaks and valleys on the inside. This exposes more of the whiskey to wood than a standard stave, ostensibly giving it a richer, woodier profile. These Sinatra-barreled whiskeys are mingled with standard JD to produce the final blend.

So, how is it? JD Sinatra Select offers a honey/butterscotch nose that’s immediately appealing, just touched with popcorn notes. The body is classic Jack, dense with vanilla caramel character, light orange zest, and malted milk. That corny character rolls along after a while, building on the finish. All in all, an excellent example of Jack at its finest, rich without being overly wooded, young without tasting brash.

The price is a bit hard to swallow, mind you. At $165 for a liter bottle, it’s a good 6 times the price of a regular liter bottle of JD. You do get a fancier label and box, an orange stopper with a fedora on it, and a neat little booklet about Sinatra (and it’s 90 proof instead of the usual 80 proof of Old No. 7). Does that add up to $165? Even Sinatra may have balked at that one.

90 proof.

A- / $165 (one liter) /  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee Cider

jack daniel's winter jackI first encountered Winter Jack several years ago on a trip to Germany. There it was, this curious bottle set on the back bar in an outdoor Christmas market, where it was subtitled an “Apple Whiskey Punch.” Turns out the holiday-themed spirit has been popular in that country for a few years, and now, Winter Jack is finally making its way from Deutschland to America, rebranded as a “Tennessee Cider.” Same difference, I suppose, and in fact it’s the same product, just rebranded for its American release.

Winter Jack is a mix of apple cider liqueur and classic Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Emphasis, as you’ll see below, is on the cider liqueur.

The spirit pours a very pale, Chardonnay-like color. The nose offers cinnamon, applesauce, and honey, but it isn’t overpowering… a lot like sticking your nose into a glass of your kids’ juice. On the body, initially it’s quite mild as the nose would indicate, offering a simple apple juice/cider character that slowly builds to a more tart, fresh apple-driven finish. The spirit leaves you with quite a bit of sweetness, which is where the barest touches of caramel and vanilla show up, the thumbprint of JD turning out to be quite a latent one on this spirit. The overall effect is appealing, though it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. In the end, Winter Jack clearly prefers to let the cider liqueur do more of the talking, which is fine, I guess. You can always add more whiskey to suit your tastes, after all.

Intended to be served warm.

30 proof. Check the website below for availability in your state.

B / $18 /

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2013

WhiskyFest 2013 is now in the books, and my what an embarrassment of riches this show was. While I heard grousing about the show not having as many hits as usual (most of the independent Scotch bottlers like Samaroli were absent), I managed to find a ton of them. Driven this year perhaps by a ruthless attempt to avoid lesser products (one industry bigwig, with all seriousness, suggested I give Johnnie Walker Red Label a try), it didn’t take much doing to suss out some really great whiskeys being poured. Who can complain when Julian Van Winkle is pouring his best stuff, after all?

It was quite the global event this year, with numerous whiskeys from Japan, Canada, and Ireland on tap that you don’t normally see at shows. And more and more craft distillers, like Masterson’s and Smooth Ambler, are taking to shows to give people a taste of something new.

Anyway, as usual it was a great evening with old friends and new ones – both of the whiskey and the human variety. Thoughts follow.

American Whiskey / Bourbon
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Ten / A- / some menthol, caramel with a dusty finish
Masterson’s 12 Year Wheat / A- / big wood, cherries, a fun whisky
Masterson’s 10 Year Barley / C- / funky mint and rubber notes, unripe banana, not at all to my liking tonight
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit / A- / lovely sweetness without being saccharine, tried just to say hi to Jimmy and Eddie Russell, both pouring
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / a new limited edition from JD, the same spirit but aged in barrels that have been “grooved” with extra cuts to expose more wood surface; as expected, this is like JD, but woodier; not bad at all
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Years Old / A / still maturing, with a little burn
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Years Old / A+ / Pappy at its best, raisins, wood, big body… just perfect
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A / you can finally see the age on this spirit at 23, where the balance is just starting to turn toward too much wood

Scotch Whisky
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / B / chewy barley and rubber bands
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 Years Old / A- / cake, nuts, smoke, malt
Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice / A+ / best spirit at the show, aged in American oak for 21 years, then finished in Chateau Yquem barrels; liquid gold, sweet and savory in perfect balance
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 22 Years Old / B+ / always a funky expression, bristly and huge this year, with a smoky, old-world character
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 / A- / is Octomore losing its ability to shock me? This struck me as plenty peaty but not overdone, with evergreen and charcoal notes
Buchanan’s Red Seal / A- / Buchanan’s first WhiskyFest; a peaty blend with some citrus and sweetness, good balance
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition / B+ / a new release from Cutty; very mild, surprisingly malty, with fresh grain and wood notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1973 / A / hearty sherry character, drinking beautifully
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1983 / B / dusty with lots of wood; couldn’t be more different than the ‘73
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend / B / overcooked, unthrilling
Compass Box Delilah’s 20th Anniversary Limited Edition / B+ / bottled as a tribute to a famed Chicago area bar, matured partly in new oak barrels (rare for Scotch); bourbon-like character, peppery with lots of wood, caramel notes

Irish Whiskey
Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve / A / always a standout, this beautiful bottling (~26 years old) features lovely spicy notes beneath a sweet core
Midleton Barry Crockett Edition / A- / a vatting of 7 to 22 year old spirits; more rustic than the Jameson, chewy grain notes, still fun

Canadian Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Years Old / A- / mellow, well developed, sultry finish
Lot No. 40 / B- / a 100% rye bottling, a powerhouse of rubber, pungent basil and cherry notes

Japanese Whiskey
Hakushu Heavily Peated / B+ / not at all “heavy” in my mind, good balance with citrus notes
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years Old / B+ / ample cereal notes
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / great balance of grain and honey, a standout

Gran Duque De Alba XO 18 Years Old / A- / Spanish brandy; big coffee and licorice notes; intriguing and powerful
Gran Duque De Alba Oro 25 Years Old / B+ / a little overblown, same character as the XO, but just too much, too hoary

Review: George Dickel Rye Whiskey

george dickel ryeEveryone is getting in on the rye game, and the latest to join the party is George Dickel, which has crafted this whiskey from 95% rye and 5% malted barley, then aged it for five-plus years. Sourced from Indiana (where plenty of rye is being produced for just about everyone), it’s still made to Tennessee whiskey specifications: Chilled, filtered through charcoal, then bottled at 90 proof.

As with Dickel’s corn-based whiskeys, Dickel Rye is very silky smooth, that “charcoal mellowing” having done its duty admirably. But there’s ample rye character here — chewy raisin bread with ample cinnamon notes. Vanilla a-plenty. Cocoa powder finish. Overall, the body is light and easygoing, a pleasant and sweet rye that would work well in any cocktail.

Compare to Bulleit Rye.

Shipping in November 2012.

A- / $25 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Unaged Tennessee Rye

How do you know when white whiskey has become a Big Thing? When Jack Daniel’s, the largest spirits brand in the world, gets into the game.

By way of backstory, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 uses a fairly traditional Bourbon-style* mashbill, 80% corn, the other 20% rye and malted barley. This is the way it has been, and (undoubtedly) the way it shall always be.

But that doesn’t mean JD can’t make other products. Gentleman Jack is charcoal filtered twice instead of just once, like Old No. 7 is, for example. Not a big difference, but it’s something.

Now JD is working on its biggest line extension since Prohibition, with its first wholly new mashbill: an honest-to-god rye whiskey. Made of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley, it’s unlike anything JD has ever offered before.

It’s also not going to be ready for a few years.

JD is taking an interesting step in deciding not to wait until 2015 or so to release its new whiskey and is instead giving the unaged version a limited release. You’re reading this correctly: For its next trick, JD is releasing a white whiskey based on this future product. This is actually the first time I’ve ever heard of this being done, but it makes sense, a kind of sneak preview of a whiskey to come.

Looking at JD Unaged Rye as it stands today, you won’t find any massive surprises or departure from the current state of white whiskeys. Lots of grain on the nose, very raw, and typical of unaged whiskey no matter what the mashbill is. The body is surprisingly mild, and the funkiness of most white whiskeys is almost absent here. Instead, touches of chocolate (cocoa powder), coconut, and some tropical notes, particularly banana, dominate. The finish is smooth and light, almost harmless — that JD charcoal mellowing process really does strip out a lot of the more unpleasant flavors. The overall effect is interesting, but it’s honestly far from earth shattering.

The biggest problem with this is that Jack is suggesting a $50 price tag for this 80-proof spirit, which puts it at roughly three times the price of a bottle of JD that’s spent years in a barrel. That would also suggest that, once this rye comes out of barrel for its official, aged release, it should cost on the order of $75 or more. Both of those are crazy ideas, and I suspect that calmer heads will prevail such that Jack Daniel’s Rye (or whatever it’s called), when it’s finally released, won’t hit more than $25 or $30 at your local liquor store.

That aside, how can you get it? Per the company: Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye is scheduled to be available in December at select retail outlets throughout Tennessee including the White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the Jack Daniel’s Visitor Center in Lynchburg, Tenn.  In January 2013, it will be available in limited quantities in other select markets throughout the U.S.

Update: Reader Matt Bradford says JD expects to sell the new whiskey beginning (around) December 15, 2012.

* I know, JD isn’t Bourbon.

B+ / $50 /

Review: George Dickel Tennessee Whiskys – Cascade Hollow, No. 8, and No. 12

Like Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel is not Bourbon. That’s not because, like Jack, it’s made in Tennessee instead of Kentucky; you can still make Bourbon down there (or anywhere in the U.S. now). Rather, like Jack again, it is filtered through charcoal before it goes into the barrel, a no-no in the Bourbon world.

George Dickel, from Tullahoma, Tenn., comes in some surprisingly diverse varieties, three of which we’re reviewing below. For all, the basic approach and recipe are the same. The whiskey is chill-filtered before charcoal “mellowing,” and that charcoal is made by Dickel itself from locally-sourced maple wood. Aging occurs in single-story warehouses (those must be huge), to limit variability over time, and the final product is blended with water from Cascade Springs — the same source used when the original George Dickel started making whiskey in 1870.

Er: Whisky. Like Maker’s Mark, Dickel is one of just a few distillers in the U.S. that spells whisky the Scottish way. But whatever you call it, thoughts follow. JD drinkers, give Dickel a whirl next time out and see how it stacks up.

George Dickel Cascade Hollow Tennessee Whisky (red label) – Intended to mimic the flavor of Dickel’s original whiskey from the 1870s. You’d expect that to be rough and rustic, but Cascade Hollow is actually a smooth and quite sweet whiskey, with a bold vanilla character, creamy body, a touch of black pepper spice, and a simple, somewhat short finish. Not long on complexity, but it’s really easy-drinking and an amazing value on a quality product. 80 proof. A- / $16 (discontinued in 2013)

George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Whisky (black label) - Aged about 6 years. Clearly a bolder flavor profile here, with plenty more spice to go around, and a burly finish that packs in lots of citrus, tobacco, and creme brulee notes than the Cascade Hollow. The charcoal finishing makes itself known in the end, where some smoky notes are evident. 80 proof. B+ / $18

George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky (parchment label) – Aged 8 to 9 years on average. Dickel blends in older stock to the No. 12 version of its whiskey, and ups the alcohol to 90 proof. Good call on both fronts: No. 12 is a touch smoky like the No. 8, but the body comes across as deeper in the way it pulls the spiciness out of the grain used in the mashbill. Still a modest amount of sweetness in the finish, but whiskey fans looking for a more frontier-like experience will probably veer toward No. 12. B+ / $20

Jack Daniel’s Responds to Claim that Its Original Formula Has Been Discovered

You can rest easy. According to JD, the famous Tennessee whiskey is still a 100% American creation.

Jack Daniel Distillery Says Welshman’s Claimed Discovery Of Jack Daniel’s Original Formula Contrary To History

LYNCHBURG, Tenn., June 19, 2012 — The Jack Daniel Distillery responded to recent headlines in the United Kingdom that a Welshman has uncovered Jack Daniel’s original whiskey recipe by saying, “It’s a good story, but one based in fancy rather than fact – as the dates don’t match historical record,” according to Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett.

As told in the U.K. story, businessman Mark Evans claims a book of herbal remedies written in 1853 by his great-great-grandmother contains the original recipe for Jack Daniel’s whiskey.  The story cites as proof that one of Mr. Evans’ relatives left Wales for America around 1853 and traveled to Lynchburg, Tenn., where the Jack Daniel Distillery was opened later, and that relative was known as “John ‘Jack the Lad’ Daniels.”

“The people and dates just don’t match up,” said Arnett.  “Jack Daniel’s family was living in America for two generations prior to the 1853 date Mr. Evans suggests his relative came to the United States.  His John ‘Jack the Lad’ Daniels is not our Jasper Newton ‘Jack’ Daniel.

“We also know that Jack Daniel learned to make whiskey from a local Lutheran minister here in Lynchburg and not an herbal remedies book,” added Arnett.

“Jack Daniel’s has always benefited from the fact that people liked to talk about it,” said Arnett.  “Its remarkable, small-town founder and the fact it’s made in a dry county intrigue people and get them talking.  And so, through the years, it’s drawn all kinds of legend and lore to it.  Mr. Evans’ story falls into the category of lore.”

Review: Jailers Tennessee Whiskey, Breakout Rye, and Forbidden Secret Cream Liqueur

Today we look at three new whiskey products brought to us by  a new company, the Tennessee Spirits Company, a division of Capital Brands. Formed by a group of spirits industry veterans, the focus here is (obviously) on Tennessee whiskeys, with this trilogy the inaugural releases.

TSC doesn’t have its own distillery (yet) but plans to build one, including a visitor’s center. These three spirits are obviously private-label creations for now (one doesn’t just start a business and sell an 8-year-old rye the next day), and it will probably take a few stabs at this to hit the right groove while that distillery gets up and running.

Jailers Premium Tennessee Whiskey – A mashbill of 80% corn plus assorted rye and malted barley go into this whiskey, which is double distilled, steeped in maple chips, then aged for 4 to 5 years in charred white oak barrels. It is chill-filtered and bottled at 86 proof. Very fruity, it’s got distinct macerated Bing cherry character, then the wood — charred cherrywood — comes along after a bit. This is a hot whiskey with a moderate body, quite sharp, with a warming finish. It’s a Tennessee whiskey that’s hard to peg: It’s not the easy drinker of, say, Jack Daniel’s, but there’s so much fruit here it’s hard not to imagine it in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. B+ / $25

Breakout American Rye Whiskey – A mashbill of 51%-plus rye (plus corn and malted barley) goes into a double-distilled whiskey that is put into white oak barrels for eight years. Like Jailers, it’s bottled at 86 proof. This is a tricky and unexpected rye. Malty and dusty, this has the distinct character of a whiskey that’s spent too long in wood. Some buttery toffee character lives on the nose, but it’s quickly subsumed by all that wood, coming together with a bit of a sawdust character. In the end Breakout just doesn’t have a great rye body to it, and the whiskey doesn’t ever come together the way it should. C+ / $45

Forbidden Secret Dark Mocha American Cream – A Bailey’s clone, though the “artificial liqueur” label on the bottle doesn’t instill confidence. Essentially this is a blend of Jailers Whiskey, cream, chocolate, and espresso, and it tastes like you think it does: Sweet, creamy, and and much like a boozy version of something you’d order at Starbucks. All the elements listed above are here, in a pretty good balance. If you like whiskey/cream liqueurs, you’ll dig this one, “artificial” or no. 30 proof.  A- / $25

Greetings from Frankfurt, Germany

I’m spending a week in southern Germany and just finished a wonderful meal with Lenz Moser of Laurenz V at the Schlosshotel in Kronberg. Check out what I encountered earlier today at Frankfurt’s mammoth Christmas fair. Anyone else ever seen this? Off to the Rheingau tomorrow!

jack daniels winter jack

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

WhiskyFest remains the whiskey enthusiast’s festival to beat. With hundreds of whiskeys, it is a mad dash for all sorts of great stuff — if only you can find it in the scattered auditorium and muscle your way to the front of the line. Don’t worry, you can do it, and even though the 2011 installment of this awesome event had more than its share of no-shows from the advance whisky list — Isle of Jura Shackleton, Tomatin 30 Year Old, Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac, the entire Usqueabach table — there were so many amazing whiskeys here it is hard to complain.

Favorites were unilaterally from the private bottling companies, including Duncan Taylor’s killer 36 Year Old Lonach Blend, Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old — all that time in ex-sherry butts — and maybe by new favorite whisky ever, Samaroli Evolution 2011. Notes on all of these follow, plus comments (however brief) on everything else I sampled during the evening.

Thanks again to Whisky Advocate (nee Malt Advocate) for putting on such a terrific show (and inviting me).


Samaroli Evolution 2011 / A+ / this Rome-based private whisky bottler was a fave at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and this bottling was a revelation; a vatting of whisky stocks dating back to 1957, it is incredibly supple, complex, and impossible to put down

Samaroli Glenlivet Top Class 1977 / A- / amazing elegance

Samaroli Linkwood Top Class 1983 / B+ / bit tougher

Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / B+ / rich and chewy

Samaroli Highland Park 1989 / B+ / has an edge to it

Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / B+ / surprising sweetness

Auchentoshan Valinch / B / hard finish

Auchentoshan Bordeaux 1999 / B+ / sweetness up front leads to a rough finish

Auchentoshan 21 Year Old / B+ / my fave of the Auch line, better balance

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve / B

Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage / B / big nougat notes lead to a strange, funky finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt 25 Year Old / B+ / almost American in styling, sweet finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt Decades / A- / a vatting of 5 decades’ worth of whisky; complex and lots of fun

Isle of Jura Superstition / A- / nice balance with the peat here

Isle of Jura 16 Year Old / B / big grain notes, exotic

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+ / finished in sherry, which adds just a touch of citrus to standard Laphroaig’s peat and iodine; interesting but could go farther

Gordon & MacPhail Benromach 10 Year Old / B / young but charming

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila Port Finish 10 Year Old / B+ / nice mix of smoke and sweet, needs more aging

Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Year Old / A-

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old / A / spends all 21 years in sherry casks, an amazing whisky, deep and rich (by far the darkest Scotch I saw all night)

Gordon & MacPhail Tamdhu 30 Years Old / B+ / a bit over the hill, wood-wise

Compass Box Great King Street / A- / a masterful blended whisky

Springbank 14 Year Old Manzanilla Cask / B+ / big olive notes

Springbank 18 Year Old / B+ / not feeling it tonight; too much of a coal character

Kilkerran WIP 3rd Release / B+ / like Kilbeggan, Kilkerran is doing releases as its whisky ages; at 3 years old it is young but exciting, lots of promise ahead

Duncan Taylor Banff 35 Year Rich and Rare / A / amazing fruit and wood here, lovely finish

Duncan Taylor Lonach Blend 36 Year / A / cinnamon and apple pie, all sorts of fun

GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament / B+ / curious wood and spice notes

GlenDronach 15 Year Old 1995 Pedro Ximenez Cask #2045 / B

Macallan 18 Year Old / A-

Highland Park 25 Year Old / A- / musky finish

Bruichladdich Black Art 2 / B+ / finish delves deep into grain character

Bruichladdich Octomore 3/152 / A- / the new “most peated” whisky in the world, actually quite pleasant and not the bowl-you-over dram I was expecting; more like a barbecue than a smoke bomb

Ardbeg Corryvreckan / A

Ardbeg Alligator / A- / Ardbeg’s latest, aged in ultra-charred oak barrels; the wood really does battle with the peat here, giving it a curious but less enthralling character, I think


Redbreast 12 Years Old / B+ / really woody kick; the reputation exceeds the whisky

Redbreast 15 Years Old / B+ / not terribly different

United States

Bardstown Riverboat Rye Whiskey / B / a younger version of Redemption Rye

Bardstown Temptation Bourbon / A- / good sweetness, balance

Bardstown Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon / A / intensely rye-focused, and intensely alcoholic; not released (the company is hoping for 2012)

Koval Lion’s Pride Spelt Whiskey / B+ / aged 2 years; not bad, lots of grain character

Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old / A- / love the rye kick; probably better since it was poured by Jimmy Russell himself (picture below!)

George Dickel Barrel Select / A- / nice rye going on here

Not Whiskey

Frapin Cognac VS / A- / 4 years old; surprisingly clean for a $49 Cognac

Frapin Cognaac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A- / big nose on it, great citrus and sherry finish

Frapin Cognac  VIP XO / A- / quite similar to the Fontpinot

Frapin Cognac Extra / A / 75 years old, extremely complex, mellow, and lingering

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Selection des Anges / A- / beautiful, smooth

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Cigare / A / not smoky, and in fact not as big a body as you’d expect with a name like that; very well crafted and lush; drink with or without a cigar

Tequila Corrido Extra Anejo Barrel #2 / A / a killer, and the only tequila here; lovely chocolate finish

Jack Daniel’s Changes Its Label and Bottle

Heresy? The changes are bigger than you’d think. Here’s the press release, and a before & after photo. I have to say, I think JD fans are going to hate this — mainly over the new bottle design.

LYNCHBURG, Tenn., May 16, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — The Jack Daniel Distillery announced today that it is making minor refinements to the familiar Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 bottle to accentuate the bottle’s square shoulders and also to simplify the front and side labels.

The company is quick to note that even though the bottle and label have been refined, the whiskey inside remains unchanged.  The bottle will begin shipping this month and will be on most shelves by July.

“Mr. Jack Daniel was proud of the craftsmanship and care that went into his whiskey and wanted a bottle as unique as its smooth, mellow character,” said John Hayes, Senior Vice President, Managing Director Jack Daniel’s.  “That’s why in 1895, Jack made the decision to put his whiskey in a square bottle, unlike other whiskeys of his day.  He wanted to make sure his whiskey stood out.  The refinements today are meant to honor Mr. Jack’s desire that his bottle reflect the distinctive character of the whiskey.”

This is not the first time the Jack Daniel’s bottle and label have been updated.  The first refinements go back to Jack Daniel who originally sold his whiskey by the barrel.  He then moved from barrel to jug to the familiar square bottle.  Over the years, during Mr. Jack’s day and after, refinements were made to the bottle and label:  Gold medals were added to the side label as they were won; Lynchburg sayings were added and dropped; and, room was made for more information.  Over time, so many things were added that the label began to look more cluttered than it was under Mr. Jack’s watch, according to the distillery.

“We think Mr. Jack would be proud of the refinements and how they honor his wish that his Old No. 7 whiskey be as distinctive in the bottle as it is in taste,” said Hayes.

Review: Ole Smoky Distillery Apple Pie Moonshine

You say apple pie, I say apple pie moonshine. Yes folks, it’s two great tastes that taste great together, with Tennessee’s Ole Smoky Distillery moonshine — 80% corn and 20% mystery — making up the backbone of a classic yet indescribable spirit.

The nose and body scream cinnamon and apples, in that order. This is as close to apple pie in a bottle as I’ve ever experienced (and yes, I’ve experienced other attempts), with an authentic sweet-and-spicy character that is — shockingly — far from cloying. It helps that Ole Smoky kept the alcohol to a mere 40 proof, which drains all the heat out of the spirit and makes it wholly suitable for sipping or for use as a grown-up dessert topping. There’s even a hint of the “moonshine” aspect of the spirit in there… somewhere.

I know, this sounds like it can’t be good, and for sure it’s nothing I’d drink every night, but something I’d drink once in a while… maybe with a banjo by my side.

B+ / $25 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Liqueur

Gotta say, Jack Daniel’s knows how to launch a product. The sample bottle of its new honey-and-whiskey liqueur came in a refrigerated box, for no particular reason — it certainly doesn’t need to be kept chilled at all times — except that it is intended to be served cold.

Well, it’s been in my fridge ever since. I figure if they’re going to go to that kind of trouble, I better do as I’m told.

Honey+whiskey liqueurs have been coming out in absurd quantities over the last few years, so it comes as no surprise that JD would get in the game. Its version is as credible as anyone else’s: Honey kills the whiskey, but the whiskey leaves its mark. JD’s 70 proof version is pretty light on the honey — this is more of a smooth bourbon than a syrupy liqueur — but the adulteration makes it clear what the aspiration is here: Rocks, after dinner, maybe an ingredient in a cocktail.

The palate offers more than just honey: There is wood, vanilla, lavender, and notable lemon character as the finish fades away. Charcoal touches come on as the finish disappears completely. As honey liqueurs go, this has a lot going on, and that’s, as they say, a good thing. Who would’ve thought that in the realm of honey liqueur, it would be Jack that came up with the best of the lot.

A / $22 /