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Jack Daniel’s Special Release Twice Barreled Heritage Rye Whiskey Review (2023)

Jack Daniel’s Special Release Twice Barreled Heritage Rye Whiskey Review (2023)

Jack Daniel’s annual “Special Release” bottlings have been one of the many success stories of the brand since their inception in 2018. Their main reason for existing – aside from increased profits – is to showcase all of the things that the Jack Daniel’s Distillery is capable of. These releases walk a fine line between being ideas that are more classic in style to being a little on the wild side.

Back in 2018 (and again in 2019), the idea that Jack had for their inaugural Special Release bottling was a “Heritage Barrel” that was basically a “Full Proof” bourbo…err, Tennessee Whiskey. I say that because the point was to put their standard 80/8/12 mash bill into new charred oak barrels at 100 proof (not their standard 125 proof) and then age them on the highest floors of their rickhouses. From there, the proof undoubtedly went up. Then they proofed it back down to 100 before bottling (hence: full proof). It was an undercover sleeper hit to the enthusiasts that were smart enough to pick one up.

Jack Daniel’s brings back the “Heritage” name – this time with a rye whiskey

In 2023, Jack Daniel’s announced that their new Special Release would again be labeled as a Heritage Barrel. There would be some changes this time around. The most obvious being that it would be a rye whiskey instead of a Tennessee Whiskey. But this time it would also carry the designator that it was “twice barreled.” This was something the first two Heritage Barrel releases didn’t do. The rye whiskey started out as fully matured five (and a half) year old rye whiskey before they dumped it into newly toasted (not charred) oak barrels for an additional two years of aging (some sources say it was 2.5 years of additional aging). This puts it close to some of the single barrels of rye whiskey that exist out there (some have been reported as old as 7 years and 3 months)

The parts where I think this Heritage Barrel differs from the previous one(s) was that there is no indication that the barrel entry proof was lowered to 100 proof right before it entered its first barrel. However, all Brown-Forman products that I’m aware of which are double-barreled are typically proofed down to 100 before entering their second barrel. This was likely the case here.

Why does Jack lower the proof before it goes into a secondary barrel? Probably because of how a lower proofed whiskey interacts with the wood. The extra water typically dissolves different kinds of wood sugars compared to those with higher alcohol levels. The lower proof is going to allow enthusiasts to pick up on the subtle vanillin compounds (I describe them as vanilla and marshmallow) in their whiskey. I can’t promise that’s always the case, but that’s one of the defining features I find in toasted barrel finishes.

How long were these barrels finished for?

There seems to be a trend with Jack and their finishing timeframes. Last year’s Oloroso Sherry finished malt whiskey was also finished for 2 years in a barrel – which is highly unusual. Howso? Because the rest of the industry typically finishes any whiskey for much shorter amounts of time otherwise it runs the risk of too much barrel influence smothering the base whiskey. Michter’s – one of the most recognized brands of toasted barrel finishes in American Whiskey – only finishes their toasted barrel releases for about four weeks (usually less).

I’ve typically loved Jack Daniel’s rye whiskey in the past. I’ve given very high marks to the 2020 Special Release version and named the new single barrel store pick version the winner of my “Most Memorable Whiskey of the Year for 2023.” But one of the chief reasons I love it so much has been because of the sheer power of flavor they pack. That makes me worry about this release just a little bit. It’s so much lower in proof than the beforementioned bottles I talked about. Can it still provide the rye enjoyment I crave? Thanks to my friend Mike, I’m about to find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sweet scents of toffee and caramelized bananas are some of the first notes I find. Each sniff also reveals underlying herbal and savory notes. The nose is slightly nutty and there is an undercurrent of mint that hangs around. 

Palate: Each sip delivers a delightfully rich, but restrained rye whiskey experience. There is a certain element that I can only describe as drinking liquid brown sugar. Jack’s rye whiskey was never big on herbal notes (on account of the 3 feet of sugar maple charcoal it passes through before entering the barrel), but this one has some mint. The baking spices are the stars of the show with cinnamon leading the way. Other flavors include nuts, banana and baker’s chocolate (so kind of on the dry, bitter side). Where is all of the oak and vanilla at?

Finish: The finish is sweet and sticks around for a moderate length of time. Notes of chocolate, mint, and graham crackers hang around while banana pie provides a sweet sensation. Overall, this drink has provided little in the way of tannic notes for me, but the finish does finally sport some oak notes.

Score: 7.9/10

I think one of the more surprising aspects of this Special Release was the lack of typical toasted barrel notes. Maybe some of you have found extra vanilla or marshmallow as you drank this, but I didn’t. In a way, that’s one of the things I was looking forward to the most. A Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye, this ain’t.

But maybe it’s okay that one rye whiskey doesn’t taste like another. My words shouldn’t be interpreted that I thought it was a bad whiskey overall. It was still quite good. And while I didn’t enjoy it on the same level as the barrel strength offerings, I’d still buy this all day long at the retail price of $70.

Final Thoughts

I was worried that this review wouldn’t be relevant by time I published it, but a week ago a Total Wine in Indianapolis popped up with a couple cases of this for sale for $70 a piece. This goes to show it’s still out there and you may still get a chance to get it if opportunity comes knocking. If you can find these for that retail price, I’d highly suggest getting one. I also saw a local bottle go for $130 on the secondary which I also thought was acceptable. This is still probably worth it at that price, but any higher and I’d say forget about it. This isn’t a $200 bottle and I also think it would lose against a Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye in a head-to-head comparison.

Jack has already given us a preview of their rye whiskey being finished in toasted barrels. Check out this review of the Distillery Series bottles that I reviewed last year. I can tell that the 2023 Special Release is a more capable version of them, but there is still some depth that is lacking. I think we’ll all agree that Jack deserves to be acknowledged that they’re keeping the fresh ideas coming, but I wouldn’t sweat it if you can’t find one of these before the 2024 Special Release comes out. The world isn’t running out of toasted barrel options anytime soon.

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