Buy the World’s Best-Selling Whiskey by the Bottle or Barrel
By Hope S. Philbrick
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is produced much like a sour mash bourbon, but differs in one key way: “Before it goes into the barrel, it’s mellowed with charcoal,” says Jeff Norman, master taster. This process “softens the spirit,” helping minimize the alcohol burn so pleasant flavors like caramel and vanilla are easier to detect.
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat and tasting with Norman at the Bourbon Bar at the InterContinental hotel in Buckhead. He explained that Jack Daniel’s is made using the same recipe that’s always distinguished the product: Its grain mix is 80 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley and eight percent rye. Its water flows from the cave spring on the distillery site in Lynchburg, Tennessee. The amber color is drawn from the new American oak barrels in which it’s aged.
While sitting in warehouses, “during hot summers the barrels expand and the base spirit seeps into the wood,” says Norman. “Then during the cold winters the wood contracts and the spirit leeches out.” As Master Taster, he decides when a whiskey has drawn the right flavor from the wood and is ready to be bottled. “Our whiskey is matured to taste. You won’t see an age or year on our bottles—it’s not about how time, it’s about maturity. Like fruit ripening on a tree, you pick it when it’s ready.”
Jack Daniel’s, the world’s best-selling whiskey, produces 10 million cases a year. Yet no two barrels of its whiskey taste exactly alike. Temperature extremes from weather as well as where the barrels are stored within the warehouse contribute unique flavors. “We want to give people a choice,” says Norman, so a few different products are bottled. Whiskey from many different barrels is blended together to make Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Black Label as well as Gentleman Jack. Old No. 7 is made using the original recipe from the 1800s, while Gentleman Jack is mellowed with charcoal a second time for an even softer mouthfeel. The goal for both brands is consistency, year after year.
But Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel is just that—whiskey from one barrel, so each bottling is distinct. “These barrels are stored in the upper floors of the warehouse,” says Norman. “So they have the highest maturation rates, darkest color and most robust aroma and flavor.” Less than five-tenths of one percent of Jack Daniel’s whiskey is deemed worthy of the single barrel distinction.
Each bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel retails for approximately $44. (Old No. 7 is about $22; Gentleman Jack is about $24.) Or you can buy a whole barrel for about $10,000. Each barrel yields about 260 bottles of whiskey—“about” because evaporation varies by barrel so yield quantities vary slightly.
“You can come to our distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, taste from three barrels selected by the master distiller, and choose which one you want to buy,” says Norman. Or, if you prefer not to travel, opt for the master distiller’s choice. The whiskey will be hand-bottled in 750ml decanters that bear Mr. Jack’s signature in raised glass. Labels will commemorate the barrel number, barrel house location and the date of bottling. A metal medallion will confirm that the whiskey was bottled exclusively for you. (You and some friends might opt to chip in for a barrel together; up to four different medallions per barrel can be customized.) You’ll also get to keep the oak barrel.
Bottles of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey are available at liquor stores throughout the United States. To purchase a barrel, visit jdsinglebarrel.com or call 1-888-551-JACK . For more information about Jack Daniel’s, the brand portfolio, distillery tours and products, visit jackdaniels.com.
–Photos Courtesy Brown-Forman
Product samples afford the research opportunity but do not sway opinion.