Many reading this probably have memories of a certain two ingredient drink, typically served with ice, and possibly introduced to you before you reached the full legal drinking age. This is a memory I share with many of you because as best as I can remember, my first experience with whiskey included Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Coca-Cola, the two were poured over ice, and served in - you guessed it - a red solo cup.
“Jack and Coke,” the simple mixed drink that is believed to have been around since the early 1900s, has served as the main introduction to the brand for many people. With a global sales volume that topped 13.5 million 9 liter cases in 2021 (that’s 162 million 750mL bottles if you do the math), that’s a clear indicator of how insanely popular Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is. So by the sheer numbers, this isn’t surprising. And if that doesn’t convince you, we ran a few Twitter polls (here and here) to back it up.
But a brand can be popular for many different reasons, and first impressions matter. A sweet, relatively inexpensive mixed drink that’s likely lead many to confess to a toilet seat, swearing never to drink again, means that it’s not uncommon for someone to relegate Jack Daniel’s to the ranks of a low cost mixer. For me, it wasn’t until I started scratching beneath the whiskey’s surface to learn more about what was inside the bottle that I started to gain a deeper appreciation for Jack Daniel's. I also realized that the company had all the ingredients to win over the hearts of diehard whiskey fans all along - a rich history dating back to the distillery’s registration by Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel in 1866, making it the first registered distillery in the United States, along with an authentic start to finish production process that even includes making their own barrels.
But having all the right ingredients doesn’t mean people will automatically come to the conclusion that Jack Daniel’s offers more than a cheap way to get drunk. Referred to as “bourbon enthusiasts,” “whiskey geeks,” and of course "whiskey diehards," I’m talking about those of us that have gone down the rabbit hole of the whiskey hobby and can’t seem to get enough of it. And it's likely many have moved on and forgotten about the famous black bottle with white lettering.
First and foremost, Jack Daniel’s primary product is Tennessee whiskey, which spills over from their standard Old No. 7 release into single barrel, barrel proof, and other special release variations. They’ve expanded into other categories of whiskey, but Tennessee whiskey remains the primary focus when you think of Jack Daniel’s. Tennessee whiskey is straight whiskey made from a grain mash of at least 51% corn, distilled to no more than 160 proof, stored in a new charred oak container at no more than 125 proof, and then bottled at no less than 80 proof - the same requirements for straight bourbon. However, Tennessee whiskey must be produced in Tennessee and must use a filtering process known as the Lincoln County Process, which requires filtering the distillate through maple charcoal prior to entering barrels for aging (with the exception of Benjamin Prichard’s). An argument as to whether Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is considered “bourbon” bubbles up from time to time, and it is safe to say Jack Daniel’s legally qualifies as bourbon, but fulfilling the Tennessee whiskey requirements means it’s actually something more. According to Master Distiller Chris Fletcher, “it’s perfectly fine if someone refers to us as a bourbon, and that’s because we are. Our charcoal mellowing process and the fact that we distill in Tennessee make us a Tennessee Whiskey. We follow all of the standards to be classified as a bourbon, and we could call ourselves a bourbon if we wanted.” So that’s that.
More recently, Jack Daniel’s recognized consumers’ desire for different versions of their whiskey, and they ran with it. Barrel proof, single barrel, bottled in bond, various ages, rye, and more have made their way from concept, to production, to bottle, and whiskey diehards have grown increasingly eager for whatever new product Jack Daniel’s is offering next.
Jack Daniel’s Global PR Director Svend Jansen has been with Brown-Forman, Jack Daniel’s parent company, for nearly 15 years. When I asked him how Jack Daniel’s attention towards whiskey diehards has evolved over that time, he said, “whiskey diehards have always been a group who we have paid attention to for as long as I’ve been working here. Within the past five years, we have really taken our innovation game to another level – starting with our Single Barrel Special Release Heritage Barrel, continued with the first age-stated whiskey in over 100 years with our Jack Daniel’s 10-Years-Old, and most recently with the release of our Bonded Series. That innovation has resulted in a lot more conversation within the diehard community who may have previously thought differently of Jack Daniel’s.” Though he went on to clarify, “these recent releases have allowed us to highlight our 155+ years of whiskey making expertise to not just the diehards, but whiskey drinkers in general.”
In June 2022, Jack Daniel’s released Small Batch Special Release Coy Hill Batch Proof, a bottling drawn from a set of barrels that were so high in proof they reached HAZMAT territory. According to Fletcher, “back in 2019, we identified a batch of barrels that would ultimately be bottled as our Single Barrel Special Release Coy Hill in 2021. During that process, we found around 55 barrels that couldn’t be bottled as a Single Barrel because either the evaporation or the proof was too high (over 150 proof). These barrels had some of the highest proofs we’ve ever seen out of a standard 53-gallon barrel, which was even more remarkable since we don’t heat cycle any of our barrelhouses and it was a product of mother nature. As soon as we sampled the whiskey from these barrels, we knew it was special and our fans would love a chance to try it. So we took those leftover barrels and blended them into 5 different batches, each of which were approximately 50 gallons or roughly the equivalent of 1 standard barrel. The proof on the 5 batches were incredibly high, but we didn’t set out to just bottle a high proof. We felt so strongly about the quality of the whiskey that we would have released it even at a lower proof if that’s what it called for. The character of the whiskey combined with the high proof points really made our Small Batch Coy Hill High proof really special, and something we likely couldn’t recreate.”
Just prior to that in May 2022, Jack Daniel’s made waves with the introduction of Bonded Tennessee Whiskey and Triple Mash Blended Straight Whiskey as the first two permanent expressions in their Bonded Series. According to Fletcher, “at Jack Daniel’s, we pride ourselves on our transparency and consistency. The same families in Lynchburg have made Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey for more than 155 years, and every drop distilled here leaves in a Jack Daniel’s bottle. The Bottled-in-Bond designation is something we’ve taken for granted over the past hundred years or so, and we saw that as another great way of telling our story of authenticity and transparency.”
Dating back to 1897, the Bottled-in-Bond Act was the first consumer protection law enacted by the United States government, and had an immediate and lasting effect on bourbon and American whiskey and consumer protection as a whole. In the whiskey world, honoring the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 generally garners love from whiskey diehards, who tend to feel some sense of responsibility in “standing guard” when it comes to transparency in whiskey. In our review, we found Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey to hit a sweet spot between flavor and proof that would appeal to casual whiskey drinkers and whiskey diehards alike.
Also Bottled-in-Bond, Triple Mash Blended Whiskey combines Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye, Tennessee Whiskey, and American Malt with rye being the primary component at 60% of the blend. Notably, the inclusion of American malt whiskey may have been the most surprising element, and since then a Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) label approval for a Jack Daniel’s Twice Barreled Special Release American Single Malt (finished in Oloroso Sherry casks) has been spotted. American single malt is a growing category predominantly spearheaded by smaller craft distilleries, and in July 2022 the TTB proposed an “American Single Malt Whiskey” standard of identity, meaning a set of legal standards would be put in place. Without it, whiskey makers are free to use the term American single malt however they see fit. Recognizing and entering this territory is not only good business, it gets the attention of those who follow American whiskey closely. As for the Bonded Series, Fletcher notes, “we do look forward to adding new releases to our Bonded Series in the future.”
And then there is proof of the diehards out there. Take Jack’s Safe, for example, a store in the Netherlands that specializes in one thing and one thing only: Jack Daniel’s. Inspired by a love for the brand, the store was founded in 2017. They buy and sell Jack Daniel's collections, so while their inventory includes some recent bottles, many of the bottles you simply can’t just buy anymore. There are also plenty of Jack Daniel’s Facebook groups, including some that don’t want to be easily found for reasons whiskey diehards understand completely. As for onsite visits, the distillery located in the small town of Lynchburg sees about 300,000 visitors per year.
But Jack Daniel’s journey towards whiskey diehard wonderland hasn’t come without controversy. In 2004 Jack Daniel’s lowered the proof of their standard Old No. 7 brand from 86 to 80, claiming that “the switch was made because most customers prefer the less potent mix, which was marketed first in a few states and some overseas markets,” according to Sun Journal. The company went on to say “Those who want a stiffer drink can buy specialty versions like Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel at 94 proof.”
Years later in 2016, author and reporter Clay Risen published a New York Times article titled, Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave. The groundbreaking story was one of Nearest Green (also referred to as Nathan [his legal name] and Nearis [a commonly misspelled version of his name]) who was a black slave who taught Jack Daniel how to distill. It was the first time many heard this story, and it raised questions about Jack Daniel’s integrity. Many wondered if they intentionally sought to discredit Green by remaining quiet and whitewashing him from their version of the history, though ultimately the company has embraced this history. The article is attributed to inspiring Fawn Weaver, entrepreneur, historian, and author, to research Green’s history and eventually create a brand and distillery in his honor, Uncle Nearest 1856, which we covered in-depth.
And more recently, some controversy arose surrounding the company’s move away from the 750mL bottle size, instead bottling Bonded Tennessee Whiskey and Triple Mash Blended Whiskey in 700mL bottles (and 1L…to be fair). While 750mL continues to be the most popular bottle size in the United States, globally 700mL (70cL) is standard, making for a challenge when it comes to producing products that will be sold in the United States and abroad.
But despite many people’s initial association with the brand as the key ingredient in Jack and Coke, along with a bit of arguably unavoidable controversy for a brand that has been around since the 1800s, Jack Daniel’s continually expanding product line offers a lot for whiskey diehards to hunger for. The company went from offering one standard core product for decades to now offering their Tennessee whiskey in a wide range of different proofs and ages, introduced special blends and single barrels, and even introduced rye and soon, malt whiskey to their portfolio.
Now with Chris Fletcher at the helm, the distillery’s ninth master distiller in a lineage that started with Nearest Green & Jack Daniel in 1866 and who considers himself more of a geek on the whiskey making process than anything, it’s exciting to think about what is coming next. According to Fletcher, “in the near term, we’ll continue to focus on our Special Release series along with our Bottled-in-Bond whiskeys. We’re laser-focused on recreating the lineup of age-staged whiskeys that Jack Daniel had in his days. We’re really excited for the future of that line. For the long term, we’re committed to ensuring the consistency and quality of our Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey. It’s always a top priority of ours to make the same whiskey my grandfather and the families before him made. We’re also looking to innovate in a way that reflects our history and allows us to showcase our distillery and whiskey-making heritage as we craft everything in our process from grain to glass.”
Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller History
#1 - Nearest Green - 1866 - 1884 (18 Years)
#2 - Jack Daniel - 1866-1911 (45 years)
#3 - Jess Motlow - 1911-1941 (30 years)
#4 - Lem Tolley - 1941-1964 (23 years)
#5 - Jess Gamble - 1964-1966 (12 years)
#6 - Frank Bobo - 1966-1988 (22 years, also Chris Fletcher’s grandfather)
#7 - Jimmy Bedford - 1988-2008 (20 years)
#8 - Jeff Arnett - 2008-2020 (12 years)
#9 - Chris Fletcher - 2020-present
Breaking Bourbon Jack Daniel’s Reviews