Jack Daniel’s 12 Year Old Tennessee Whiskey Review

Drink Reviews whiskey
Jack Daniel’s 12 Year Old Tennessee Whiskey Review

In the whiskey world, there’s a difference between massive sales and the more vague notions of hype and geek credibility. Take Jack Daniel’s, for instance–it’s the biggest overall whiskey brand in the U.S., and has been for decades. But does the brand get whiskey geeks excited? For many years, I would have argued that the answer was no–Jack Daniel’s was so often portrayed as the whiskey world’s equivalent to Bud Light in craft beer circles, as something pedestrian or insipid. But the last few years have really begun to change this perception of Jack Daniel’s among the U.S. whiskey cognoscenti, as a new wave of product launches and limited offerings has greatly expanded the boundaries of what kind of Brown-Forman whiskeys we see under the Jack Daniel’s banner. And this latest release is only going to stoke the fires of hype that much more.

Last year, the company released its first 10-year age stated Tennessee whiskey, the first age-stated Jack Daniel’s bottle in around a century. This was joined by the Coy Hill releases, ultra high-proof expressions that pushed as high as 148 proof, or an astounding 74% ABV. Factor in the growing popularity of single barrel Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey and rye expressions, and whiskey geeks have been taking notice of the brand in a way they never have before. And now, the company is pushing forward with its latest release, Jack Daniel’s 12 Year Old Tennessee Whiskey, a bottle that only amplifies everything that was praised in last year’s 10-year batch. And at the same time, a second batch of the 10-Year is being released as well. Both are made with the standard JD mash bill of 80% corn, 12% malted barley and 8% rye, and receive the usual charcoal filtration.

What I find rather fascinating here is how close these two are being positioned in terms of MSRP–the 10 Year is at $70, while the 12 Year is $80. If the bump up in age statement was the only difference between the two expressions, that would be a bit easier to understand, but the 12 Year also receives a significant bump in strength as well, taking it to a robust 53.5% ABV (107 proof), while the 10 Year remains at 48.5% (97 proof). Coupled together, this difference in age statement and proof is the kind of thing you’d expect to generate a jump in MSRP significantly bigger than $10, and I can’t help but think this will contribute to making whiskey geek demand for the 12 Year–and secondary market valuation–that much more intense. Especially once people get a chance to taste this.

Because folks, this is a pretty excellent expression, one of my favorite things I’ve had bearing a Jack Daniel’s label. So with that said, let’s get to tasting.

On the nose, Jack Daniel’s 12 Year Old is very sweet, fruity and expressive. In terms of color in the glass alone, one can clearly see the effects of extended aging in the Tennessee heat here, resulting in a burnished brass hue that is particularly attractive. Caramelized sugars leap out of the glass, with butterscotch and toffee intertwined with fruit–signature JD baked banana notes, and dried fruit, coupled with deep oak, dark chocolate and cinnamon cookie butter/speculoos.

On the palate, this is again just overflowing with caramelized sugars. The overall effect is sweet and spicy, with tons of sweet cinnamon brown sugar and dashes of cardamom, combined with toasted oak spice and lots of flambeed banana and plantain. It has a slightly tropical vibe, perhaps suggesting rum raisin, while the big oak presence brings modest tannins. Overall, it leans toward the sweet side, with medium to high residual sweetness–perhaps more than you’d expect for a pretty decent age statement. It gives you the sense that these particular barrels could probably keep on aging for quite a while before the oak became dominant, which is all well and good, as the company is seemingly planning to continue releasing older expressions if the results are good. Ethanol heat, meanwhile, is pretty much right where it should be for the proof point, being just hot enough to let you know it’s there.

All in all, this is a lovely expression from Jack Daniel’s, which is, as I said before, one of the best things I’ve had from a bottle with the JD label. It could perhaps be a bit more elegant and a little less indulgent, but it’s a great example of what the world’s largest whiskey brand is truly capable of.

Distillery: Jack Daniel’s (Brown-Forman)
City: Lynchburg, TN
Style: Tennessee whiskey
ABV: 53.5% (107 proof)
Availability: Limited, 700 ml bottles, $80 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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