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  • You Don’t Know Jack (Daniels)

    Faithful readers may recall that your intrepid liquor reporter has traditionally liked his whiskey the way he likes his women; over 30 years old, straight, and single (malt).

    Yes, gentle reader, for too long have I stood among the whiskey snobs, choosing the rarefied single malts, which avoiding the blends that make up the mass market.

    To broaden my boozing horizons, your humble narrator has recently taken to exploring the whiskies made on this side of the Atlantic, from our local Alberta distilleries, to the latest batch run off of my own private still, hidden in the reeds down at the end of the lake.

    One whiskey that needs no introduction is Old Number 7, the distinctive square bottle of Jack Daniel’s, also known as the world’s best-selling American whiskey, which sold over 11 million cases last year.

    Started by the eponymous Jack Daniel himself in 1866, it is now the oldest registered distillery in the USA. There were 28 dry years when the distillery was shuttered during the dark days of Prohibition, but it quickly reopened when the much-maligned social experiment finally came to an end.

    The famously mellow flavour of Jack Daniel’s is achieved through the so-called Lincoln County Process, which slowly filters the whiskey through a thick layer of sugar maple charcoal, and then draws the whiskey into new charred oak barrels for aging.

    Interestingly, the oak barrels used for aging Jack Daniel’s are made onsite by a team of master coopers, making it the only distillery to still construct their own barrels.

    The barrels are used only once, and are then sold off to distilleries mostly in Scotland, as Scotch whisky is often aged in used bourbon barrels.

    While this may be shocking news to Canadian readers, there are still many dry counties in Tennessee where it is illegal to purchase liquor, and the Jack Daniel’s distillery is located smack in the middle of one. A legal loophole allows whisky to be purchased onsite at the distillery, but Jack Daniel’s is not available for sale anywhere else in their home county.

    While the most recognizable brand of Jack Daniel’s is the Old Number 7 with the black label, there are a few others in the portfolio as well.

    Gentleman Jack is made from the same stock as the flagship brand, but is run through the charcoal filtering process twice, giving it an even smoother and more refined taste. Attractively priced, this whisky easily stands beside single malts that command a much higher price.

    Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey starts with their flagship brand, then blends it with their own honey liquer. This is a little too sweet to be a sipping whisky, but works well in cocktails.

    The Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select are the premier 1% of the flagship brand, aged longer for a more complex flavour, with hints of vanilla and oak. Think of this as the whisky equivalent of a Grand Cru wine.

    My personal favourite is a new brand called Sinatra Select, named after the old blue-eyed crooner himself, Frank Sinatra.

    Attentive readers will recall that the Lincoln County Process filters the whiskey through a huge vat of maple charcoal, which removes nearly all of the colouring and flavours. At this point, the neutral clear alcohol is put into new charred oak barrels for aging, which is what imparts all the flavour to the whiskey.

    The Sinatra Select uses a unique twist on the Lincoln County Process, by scoring a corkscrew pattern of grooves on the inside of the barrel. This scrapes away some of the charred layer on the inside, and allows the whiskey to contact both the charred inner surface and lines of raw oak.

    This allows more oak contact with the whiskey, resulting in a more flavourful product when bottled.

    Frank Sinatra himself was an unabashed lover of Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7, preferring his whiskey over ice, and splashed with a few ounces of water.

    Ol’ Blue Eyes never started a show without a highball glass in hand, and did more as an unintentional brand ambassador than an army of ad agencies could dream of.

    Sinatra Select has only just arrived in the Alberta market, but can already be found in most well-stocked booze merchants. Check www.liquorconnect.com to see if it can be found at your friendly neighbourhood liquor retailer!