|Don't like ads?
Chris Morris is a household name for many bourbon enthusiasts. New to bourbon and unsure who he is? He was the Master Distiller for Brown-Forman who oversaw all of the other BF master distillers. He spent a large part of his career working out of Woodford Reserve and was most closely associated with that brand. So why am I talking about him in a review for Jack Daniel’s? Read on to find out.
Why did Jack Daniel’s decide to make a Malt Whiskey?
I’ve listened and read many interviews with Morris for a while now. If you’ve also listened to them, he will casually drop his affinity for malted barley and whiskies made from it. Therefore, it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that things began to change within Brown-Forman’s brands as he received more power and authority.
First, he developed the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection in 2009. That line would showcase some unique whiskies and finishing methods that appeared to be borrowed from distilleries across the pond. Then he became the Vice President of Whiskey Innovation for all of Brown-Forman brands in 2015. It was around this timeframe that the three primary US Brown-Forman brands (Jack, Old Forester and Woodford) began to develop new whiskey recipes. Morris championed the idea of producing malt whiskey most of all.
Looking at the timeline of where he was in leadership positions, it’s not hard to see more malt whiskey products pop up. The catalog of Master’s Collection releases saw steady and creative uses of malted barley in bottles like WRMC Cherry Wood Smoked Barley (the malted barley content was kilned with cherry wood), WRMC Double Malt (where Straight and Classic malts were used), WRMC Chocolate Malted Rye and WRMC Five Malt Stouted Mash.
Woodford’s Distillers Series also had some funky malted releases too. The 5 Malt Whiskey and Chocolate Malt Whisper were the most notable. As the cherry on top, Morris was able to push a malt whiskey to be permanently added to the Woodford Portfolio in 2018. Over those 15 years, no other brand in the US had experimented with malted barley quite as much as Brown-Forman (specifically, Woodford Reserve) did.
I bring these unique whiskies up because when I first heard that Jack Daniel’s was releasing a Single Malt Whiskey for their Special Release in 2022, I felt it had Morris’s fingerprints all over it. Yes, Chris Fletcher (Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller as of 2020) had released some generic statements about his thoughts on this new whiskey, but he was not the one who distilled it. The press release went as far as to say that the barrels that make up the 2022 Special Release were distilled in 2015. Isn’t it ironic that this was also the year that Morris became VP of Whiskey Innovation?
Prior to this release, Jack’s malt whiskey creations had been hiding in the background. Their focus seemed to be on Tennessee Whiskey and rye whiskey – and rightly so. Fans of the brand were not exactly begging for a new style of whiskey. Getting them to buy Jack’s rye whiskey had already been an uphill battle, but the sales numbers showed that Jack’s rye was a success (especially after the 2020 Special Release). This gave the people in charge at Brown-Forman the confidence that a malt whiskey could succeed. It just so happened that a large batch of barrels were lying in wait.
What makes up Jack’s Single Malt, Twice-Barreled Whiskey?
Rather than Jack recycling the Woodford Reserve Malt Whiskey recipe (51% malted barley, 47% corn and 2% rye), they went their own direction by distilling with 100% malted barley. The type of barley was never revealed, but they did mention that the malt whiskey went through the same Lincoln County Process (LCP) that all of their whiskey goes through: i.e dripped through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. Rather than being aged in used oak casks like Scotch or Irish Whisky, Jack’s Malt Whiskey was aged in new charred oak barrels.
After a little bit more than 4 years of aging, these barrels were dumped into freshly emptied Spanish Sherry casks from the Antonio Paez Lobato Cooperage (which is also owned by Brown-Forman). Seeing as how these Sherry casks (Butts) were made to hold between 475 and 500 liters (and an American Standard Barrel holds about 200 liters), they were too big to be stored on their sides inside of Jack’s warehouses. Therefore, they had to be aged on pallets standing straight up. They were rested for over 2 years like this before being dumped, batched and bottled in 2022.
Each bottle of the 2022 Special Release is said to be cask strength. The one I’m reviewing today comes in at 106.6 proof, but bottles from this release came in anywhere from 106.1 to 107.8 proof. That seems rather low to me seeing as how Jack Daniel’s whiskies typically go into the barrel at 125 proof and rarely drop below 115 during aging. This leads me to believe that Jack may have done what they did to their 2018 and 2019 Heritage Barrel Special Release where they proofed the distillate down to 100 proof after coming off the still. This low barrel entry proof meant that there was more water content which allowed different wood sugars to become dissolved during the aging process. The result was a different profile overall.
So how did the final product turn out? Let’s find out. A special thanks to Evan for his generosity with this bottle. As I always do, I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The nose is very mellow, but fruity. Stewed red fruits combine with vanilla and small amounts of floral scents. Spices are similar to gingerbread (with cinnamon taking lead) while a healthy dose of melted chocolate can be found too. Overall, the nose smells very soft and gentle. It’s like a mulled wine in some ways and make me curious for what comes next.
Palate: The first sip…and the next… and the next are all packed with Sherry flavors. This is more of a wine than a whiskey – and it’s also very woody. This does not taste close to a Scotch malt (it’s not soft enough), but it packs a very lively punch to my taste buds. There are dark fruit and sauce notes everywhere. It’s like strawberries and raspberries were dipped in melted chocolate. But I literally can’t pick up on any other notes. The Sherry, it seems, has overwhelmed them all.
Finish: Much like on the palate, woody oak notes add both spice and a bit of dryness. This is not to say that tannis have overwhelmed it all because there is still plenty of sweetness on the end. The spice of the Oloroso Sherry still pings on my tongue after the sip is complete and some barrel char fades away. The finish seems simple, yet satisfying. Yet I kind of wanted more.
While I found each sip to be a very pleasant experience, it definitely does not push the needle of American Single Malt Whiskey into the territory of “gotta have this.” Enthusiasts of malt whiskey from overseas producers will probably be puzzled when they take a sip of this bottle. It’s not as elegant as a Scotch is. The reasons are probably obvious: the new charred oak barrels smother the sweet, delicate malted barley flavors in favor of oaky, wine-heavy wallops. I find first-fill Sherry cask Scotches to have a rather overwhelming presence too, but Jack’s approach makes me think I’m drinking a distilled Sherry spirit. This should be expected for 2.5 years of finishing in fresh Sherry Casks. Did nobody think to use second-fill casks?
Just because the balance was a little lacking in a drink like this doesn’t necessarily mean its bad. It was certainly rich enough to satisfy all of my dessert cravings. The spice, chocolate and fruit notes seemed like a perfect match for the winter holidays that this bottles was released around. That part may have been the saving grace for many enthusiasts who learned the hard way that “Single Malt” was not the same as “Tennessee Whiskey” in 2022.
It’s not really an opinion to say that this was one of the more lackluster Special Releases that Jack has put out. It sold slowly around me and secondary prices were barely 50% more than the suggested retail price. Friends of mine who had experience with Scotch mostly rejected buying a bottle. I turned one down myself when it was offered in favor of a Private Select bottle of Four Roses (it was a 10-year OESO in case you were wondering). This should say all you need to know about if you should try to find your own bottle one a year later.
Still, it’s not a bad bottle to sip on if you get a chance. And we know that it wasn’t the last we’ll see of Jack Daniel’s Malt Whiskey (1000 more barrels were aging when this came out). There’s even been a new release since then called Jack Daniel’s American Single Malt Oloroso Sherry Cask (which comes in a 1 Liter bottle for some reason). I’d recommend starting there first if you feel the need.
Time will tell if the great American Single Malt Awakening will happen or not, but I personally think that Jack jumped the gun on releases like this. I guess it’s better to be prepared just in case Americans decide they like heavily-wooded malt whiskey, but I still think that public acceptance is a long way off.
*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.