Water of Life – Jack Daniels Single Barrel and Sinatra Select
After having covered a myriad of distilleries as part of this series, it is almost sacrilege that we have not touched on one of the most prominent American ones that produces whiskey yet ticks the boxes of bourbon as well, i.e. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Compared to other affordable and widely available mellow drops that offer an economic drinking experience, I found Jack Daniels always good value for money, especially while roaming in the more remote regions of Asia. An occasion in my early twenties, where my still virgin and underdeveloped palate got to share a coke / JD concoction with Lemmy Kilmister (at 11am) ensured that every future sip was inextricably tied to a great memory.
Today we shall venture beyond JD’s core range that even the hardcore spirit luddites would be familiar with when and start by zero-ing in on their Single Barrel bottling, which is one of the more interesting efforts as compared to blends, rule of thumb is that a single bottling does not offer any room to hide anything and must stand for itself.
Derived from what is referred to as Lincoln County Process, i.e. a process that is focussed on removing impurities and diminishing the dominating aspect of corn by steeping the whiskey for six days in ten foot vats and passing through maple charcoal that was made by burning maple wood that had been impregnated with high octane Jack Daniel’s whiskey, before being put in new charred oak barrels and aged for up to seven years.
Resting firmly on the foundation of the trademark Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 offering, a composition of corn rye and malted barley along with the charcoal filtering that makes their drops instantly recognizable, the nostrils are tickled by a warm melange of burnt banana bread, citrussy caramel, nutty, heavily toasted oak reminiscent of apples, with the profile leaning towards a more alcoholic end courtesy of being bottled at 47% ABV. Not exactly an overly complex aroma, however, very enjoyable and I find myself coming back to it in between sips.
When it comes to what materializes on the palate with this toffee coloured dram, the aromas are further manifested, and it lacks the roughness most would associate with American brown spirits. Cinnamon is omnipresent and informed by both woody tannins and oaky nuances with a subtle honey sweetness that seamlessly transitions into a finish, which is enriched by the appearance of peppery highlights and a grainy maltiness.
Summa summarum, the Single Barrel is a higher end, well-balanced, rounded expression and should be the natural step up for anyone who enjoys the standard version and is looking for the enhancement of character that a careful selection of barrels can make, which in the case of the Single Barrels were selected from the upper floors of the warehouses as supposedly this offers the ideal conditions for more spirit interaction with the charred wood.
Now, let’s take things up a few notches, shall we?
Apart from the aforementioned front man of Motorhead (RIP), who was a charismatic walking and breathing authentic advertisement for Jack Daniel’s core range, at least before he had to transition to vodka towards the end of his time on this earthround, Jack Daniel’s has had another prominent advocate, i.e. Ole Blue Eyes, who was in effect the diametric opposite of Lemmy as he once quipped that rock’n roll was the most ugly, brute and vicious form of expression he had the misfortune to hear.
One could argue that catering to both ends of the spectrum speaks for the common denominator quality of Jack Daniel’s.
Needless to say that once Frank Sinatra voiced his unbridled enthusiasm for enjoying JD during, after and well, before his show, famously quipping that it is the “nectar of the gods”, the brand became, became a household name and eventually started honouring him with a special edition.
Now, I am only human, i.e. pour me a good drop and turn up the tunes of the rat pack and we got a party going, so intriguing me with an expression Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select was not that difficult.
Not unlike the Single Barrel expression we covered earlier based on the foundation of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, the drop is enhanced by marrying it with whiskey created from specially made Sinatra barrels: The barrels have deep grooves, which were cut into the staves of the casks. This procedure increases the amount of exposure the whiskey has to the charred virgin wood, i.e. in this case a deep red layer. The very same barrels were used for one of the better recent Ardbeg Committee releases, i.e. the appropriately labelled “Grooves”, which we covered as part of the Ardbeg 2018 feature.
What I instantly like about the dark amber coloured Sinatra Select is that upon approach, smoke and roasted oak is prominent due to the barrel impact. While the trademark JD sweetness and nuances of cinnamon and apples shine through in the middle, it rounds out in the same manner. Very inviting from the get-go and it instantly adds another dimension to what one is used to from JD.
Now, do not get me wrong – when I mention “smoke”, we are not remotely near Islay territory and it is very subtle, however, it is a nice start of the journey. On the top of the mouth, vanilla-esque, fruity flavours greet us and delight what could be described as an orangey liquid version of crème brûlée, punctuated by oaky tannins and peppery spicy notes.
I am not usually a big fan of using the adjective “smooth” as a descriptor for whisk(e)y, but if there was a drop that would qualify as such, Sinatra Select would be an example par excellence with its dry, dark chocolate-, orange peel finish.
A very solid offering that with its packaging offers a bit of eye candy as well: Honouring the traditional Jack Daniel’s look, the massive one litre bottle with its firm base is housed in a fabric covered locker box that comes with intricate details paying homage to Frank Sinatra, including an richly illustrated hard bound booklet detailing the relationship between Frank and JD, along with an invitation to the Jack Daniel’s Country Club - again a subtle reference for those in the know.
Despite the opulent packaging, there is much more to Sinatra Select than being a higher proof gimmicky premium edition and anyone remotely into American whiskeys and bourbons should acquaint themselves with it.
Frank is fabled to have quipped that he was in favour for anything that gets one through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – the third is by far more enjoyable option and while I’d prefer a bottle of Octomore, I can see why Sinatra chose this one to be buried with.
images from company website