Monday, May 28, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

Jack Daniel's, you ask? Yes, Jack Daniel's. I've had a bottle (the same bottle) open for more than three years, just taking up space. This taking up space thing is becoming a problem. My liquor cabinet is actually a little Ikea tray table thingee, and I have so many bottles that I can no longer fit new ones on it. So now my counter has a bunch of liquor bottles on it. The thing is that a number of bottles on the tray are almost empty. Therefore, this week's theme will be Kill the Bottle. First up was a bottle of JD with about one pour left in it.

The full and complete name of the whiskey contained therein is Jack Daniel's Old Time Old No. 7 Brand Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, Black Label. You can understand why most people just call it Jack Daniel's or JD or Black Jack. This is the second best-selling whiskey in the world (behind Johnnie Walker Red), and the folks at Brown-Forman, who own the distillery, really have done a fantastic job at branding the whiskey. It's everywhere. It's probably almost as well-known in the United States as Coca-Cola. But how's the whiskey? Well, I don't know how the current incarnation is (they dropped it to 80 proof a couple of years ago; this bottle is of the old 86 proof). What I had was not bad. The dominant note on the nose is soot at first. With a bit of time, I can also smell yeast, grain, and apples. I also get grain, minerals, and apples on the palate. With a bit of time in the glass, there are also hints of vanilla, but they never really become distinct. The whiskey is a bit rough and young, not appallingly so, but I can certainly notice it. Like I said, it's not bad. At $20 a fifth, though, I can get any number of better Bourbons. I don't think that I'll be buying more any time soon.

So, you ask, is Jack Daniel's Bourbon? It doesn't call itself Bourbon. It calls itself Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey. Well, the thing is that there is no such thing as Tennessee Whiskey in the liquor laws of the United States. The distillery got a letter from the Department of the Treasury in 1941 saying that Tennessee Whiskey was a distinctive form of whiskey, but a letter is not the same as a law. The fact of the matter is that Jack Daniel's does one and only one thing differently from all the producers of Bourbon in the United States: they subject the newly-distilled spirit to the Lincoln County Process, which consists of filtering the spirit through about 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. Is using the Lincoln County Process enough to disqualify the whiskey from calling itself Bourbon? Only if you conclude that the process adds unnatural coloring or flavoring to the whiskey, which the laws prohibit for Bourbon. It's a debatable point, but I don't think that it does. Now, it's not in the brand's best interest to call it Bourbon, so they never will try. But I think that it technically is.

Oh, and why did Jack Daniel's cut the proof from 86 to 80 a couple of years ago? I don't know exactly why, but money had to have something to do with it. Spirits are taxed by the US government on the basis of the number of "proof gallons" produced. A proof gallon is a gallon of 100 proof spirits. Therefore, cutting the proof saves Jack Daniel's and its corporate parent money, to the tune of $13 million on the 9 million cases they sell per year. Either that, or they could expand their production but keep the tax bill the same. Since most people who consume JD probably don't sip it straight, I imagine that they thought that their consumers would never notice the difference.

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