Jack Daniel’s is no stranger to special releases and limited editions. But while other distilleries apply those kinds of words for releases of a new mashbill, a higher proofed bottle or an entirely new and separate line of products, Jack Daniels keeps things more or less toned down. The bottles remain mostly the same shape, the mashbill stays the same and some minor tweaking to their base product occurs. In 2011, Jack Daniel’s released the first of a series of four “Holiday Select” bottlings.
The master distiller would hand select certain barrels throughout the year and then build a whiskey “Christmas Tree” out of those barrels during the holidays. The barrels would then be batched together and bottled for each year. This ended with the 2014 release and there was a gap of specialty releases for the holidays.
That all ended in 2018 when JD released single barrels carrying a new “Heritage Barrel” label. These barrels were specially made to harvest a unique profile from the distillate inside. The barrels underwent a very thorough “toasting” process before being fired. Then they were filled with an extremely low barrel entry proof distillate of only 100 before being placed on the top floor of their rickhouses. All of was designed to impart the sweetest and most oak-forward distillate that had yet to be put out. Before bottling them up as single barrels, the whiskey inside was proofed back down to the original entry proof of 100, making this release technically a “Full Proof” bottling.
The inaugural 2018 bottles of Heritage Barrel were some of the best kept secrets amongst bourbon enthusiasts, so would the 2019 batch of single barrels build off of the past? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat and in a Glencairn.
Nose: Those that know Jack Daniel’s products, know how sweet they can be. The nose immediately reminds you of warm, sweet banana bread fresh from the oven. Pecan Pralines swirl their sweet dessert-like scent all around that banana bread as well. There’s soft oak, melted caramel candies and hints of cinnamon all around. This is a beautiful nose that makes you want to sniff it all day.
Palate: Beautifully balanced at 100 proof, the mouthfeel is surprisingly rich and thick. There’s banana’s foster sprinkled with cinnamon. Roasted, oily nuts and toasted oak give depth to the train of sweets that come forward. There’s also gobs of melted vanilla frosting as well, no doubt a result of the rigorous barrel toasting.
Finish: My mouth is coated in a sticky banana taffy while the residue of oak and wet tobacco remain. I taste dried fruit (other than banana) in the form of apricots and cherries, but it is minute. For all the more satisfying this dram has been, I’m a little curious as to how not-cloyingly sweet this bourbon really is.
2018’s Heritage Barrel batted at just under an “8” but still won a side-by-side with a John J. Bowman Single Barrel by a hair. This 2019 Heritage Barrel finally pulled it up into the realm of an “excellent” whiskey and that’s still very strong praise. For all the more rich and sweet this bourbon smells and tastes, there is still a tiny bit of complexity that I feel it’s missing that could really elevate it into the stratosphere. This may sound like heresy to Jack Daniel’s lovers, but the Lincoln County Process and the fact it strips out all of those lovely fatty acids that give a whiskey depth and hold onto tannins so well may be to blame.
Jack Daniels will never bottle a whiskey that hasn’t been put through that sugar maple charcoal, but it’s fun to think of what would happen if they did. Would it be worth it to see if their whiskey would transform into heavyweight champions? I would like to hope so. But until then, these special barrels will continue to honor the *ahem* heritage of the way things have always been at Jack Daniel’s. And that’s honestly not a bad thing at all.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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