Jack Daniel’s. America’s top-selling whiskey brand and a hot piece of contention for many a whiskey fan. Is it bourbon or is it Tennessee whiskey? Is it any good or is it just a mixer? The honest answer to these questions: Yes. I won’t dig into the debate of the first question since there are plenty of venues for such a discussion. The second question, however, deserves some explanation since I almost never meet people who declare Jack Daniel’s as their go-to whiskey. When it came to attending parties, a bottle of Jack rarely made an appearance. Most of the love I see given to the brand is thanks to their Single Barrel Barrel Proof option, which has earned the “Stagg killer” honor for some people, depending on the bottle or barrel they’re drinking from.
Today we’re focusing on the brand’s flagship, Old Number 7. The reason for that number is somewhat debated, be it the original government registration number given to Jack Daniel’s, or in reference to a merchant friend with a chain of seven stores. The whiskey itself is a high-corn sour mash that goes through the “Lincoln County Process” of filtering through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal before being barreled and bottled. What does this ultimately result in? Let’s find out.
Nose: Quite sweet. Bananas and a touch of malt, almost like banana bread dough. Somewhat perfume-y fruit, cherries join the surprisingly sharp banana note with a mellow charcoal aroma. Maple, licorice and (again) bananas. Mellow really is the key word here.
Palate: Fairly smooth and sweet. The banana flavor isn’t as sharp on the palate compared to the nose, but is nonetheless prevalent and met with a light caramel sweetness, while charcoal essence takes over for the back palate and sides of the tongue, bringing a vaguely smoky character to the table. Has a bright, perfume-like astringency that throws the entire experience off.
Finish: Hints of maple and molasses quickly close out to a clean finish. Has enough pleasing warmth to warrant casual sipping, but it doesn’t leave you with anything distinct or memorable.
After trying Jack Daniel’s on its own, I’m reminded that you can’t judge a whiskey by its bottle. Simply looking at one of these bottles brings aggressive, less than approachable associations to mind. The whiskey itself, however, is sweet yet mellow; light yet flavorful. Knowing this is a Brown-Forman product makes the experience decidedly unsurprising. That typical flavor profile tends to split people, but I err on the side of enjoyment. What doesn’t work for me so much is the odd perfume-like essence. It’s difficult to describe and shake, at least until the finish abruptly closes things out. Sickly sweet isn’t something I thought I’d describe Jack Daniel’s as, but here we are.
This is where the brand’s reputation as a go-to mixer enters the equation. Even experts such as Fred Minnick have said that if they’re drinking spiked soda, then Jack Daniel’s is an easy default. We’ve seen this reinforced with the introduction of flavored options like Tennessee Honey, Apple, and Fire. We are talking about $20 (give or take) bottles, so using any of them for mixed drinks is hardly something to scoff at. That’s not what makes Old Number 7 a pass for me. What makes me pass up on Old Number 7 is that I can name a decent number of whiskeys I enjoy neat and mixed for under $20. It’s not bad whiskey, it’s just outclassed by other, more versatile options.