American whiskey fans have a tendency to crow about their desire for novelty, but the reality is often that what they really want is endless permutations of the same basic structure. Especially when it comes to the “legacy distilleries” of the field, drinkers rush out to buy new bourbons, new ryes, etc … and they hesitate, when it comes to the truly unconventional releases. I can only imagine that Brown-Forman has seen this a few times in trying to market American single malt whiskey, even as they’ve assisted the category in its steady growth in the U.S. market, but to attach American single malt whiskey to a brand as big and ubiquitous as Jack Daniel’s is a bold move indeed. This newly unveiled limited release, Jack Daniel’s Twice Barreled Special Release American Single Malt (what a name, right), could be a pretty big moment for this corner of the whiskey world.
This is an entry in the “Special Release” series from Jack Daniel’s, which has previously been all in on proof point, with Single Barrel Special Release Barrel Proof Rye, and the notoriously strong Small Batch Special Release Coy Hill High Proof. But this installment totally flips the script on those previous releases, being instead the company’s first 100% malted barley grain bill. That barley is “ground, fermented and distilled in Lynchburg, Tennessee,” meaning that this malt whiskey is unrelated to others produced by Brown-Forman companies such as Woodford Reserve. It receives the signature Jack Daniel’s brand charcoal filtration/”mellowing” process, and is then aged in newly charred American white oak barrels for “at least four years.” Importantly, the brand then receives a long Oloroso sherry cask finish for another two years, with casks hailing from the Antonio Paez Lobato Cooperage. Twice Barreled Special Release is then bottled at a cask proof of 106.1-107.8 proof. MSRP is on the fairly reasonable side (for any “limited release” at least), at $70.
That’s a lot to take in, especially for American whiskey drinkers who aren’t particularly familiar with either malt whiskey or sherry cask-finished malts. Suffice to say, this kind of treatment is more familiar to those of us who enjoy scotch whisky, although the JD product will notably diverge even from sherry cask-matured scotches because it receives its initial aging in newly charred oak, rather than the re-used American bourbon barrels typical of the scotch whisky world. It’s those newly charred barrels that really keep this on the “American” side of the ideological spectrum, rather than being a “scotch-style” whiskey.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this brand new mash bill comes off from the folks at Jack Daniel’s.
Immediately in the glass, you have to note that the color here is very dark, ruddy, ruby tone—a scotch drinker would absolutely make the connection to the sherry casks, because this certainly has the look of a heavily sherried malt. On the nose, Twice Barreled Special Release leads off with some surprisingly delicate cereal notes and crisp grain, before suggesting notes more in line with what you’d be expecting: Toffee, dark fruit, honey and dried fruit. There’s a little bit of toasted breadiness, and a slight, nutty cocoa, with a suggestion of moderate sweetness. All in all, pretty on point and what I would be expecting for the style, but nothing particularly showstopping.
On the palate, things immediately take a surprisingly spicy turn, with a profile that isn’t really anything like you’d get in a sherried single malt scotch whisky. The newly charred barrels have completely changed the dynamic here, contributing big tones of heavy cinnamon and baking spice, which combines with stewed prune/dried fruit notes. The oak has a spicy, slightly savory French oak-like quality, possibly a result of European sherry oak casks, but these notes become the most assertive flavor. I’m also getting toasted malt syrup, caramel and vanilla. The dried fruit is likewise there, but what it doesn’t necessarily evoke is oloroso sherry, specifically because it’s missing the oxidized, nutty quality that any oloroso would likely have in spades. To me, it almost makes this release more reminiscent of whiskey aged in a different style of wine barrel, such as port.
As a whole, I think this Special Release works, but where it works is as an unusual novelty in this genre. This isn’t a whiskey meant to evoke the flavors of classic sherried scotches; it’s undeniably its own thing. If I was craving sherry flavors, I wouldn’t be likely to reach for this over standbys from the likes of GlenDronach or Glenrothes, but I would say this whiskey is more accurately seeking its own curious niche.
Distillery: Jack Daniel’s
City: Lynchburg, TN
Style: American single malt whiskey
ABV: 53% – 53.9% (106.1-107.8 proof)
Availability: Limited, 700 ml bottles, $70 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.