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Jack Daniel’s, 1968

Jack Daniel’s, 1968

Jack Daniels 1968 Whiskey

I never really considered that tasting a Jack Daniel’s whiskey that was bottled in 1968 might be a possibility in the year 2016. Where would I find such a thing? How could it have escaped thirsty lips for nearly 50 years? How much would it even cost if I did find it? And, of course, how would it taste?

Well, I was recently given such an opportunity: a bottle of 1968 Jack Daniel’s, right in front of me. Clearly worn by time on the outside, but surely – hopefully – in wonderful spirit on the inside.

I didn’t find this bottle of Jack – it found me. I don’t know how it lived this long without being devoured. I have no idea how much it cost, nor the nature of any transaction involved. But I was soon about to find out how it tasted, and I quickly recognized that a bottle of Tennessee whiskey from 1968 should not just be considered in the sense of taste, but in the sense of time.


If you look at the history books, 1968 was not a particularly good year for this world, nor for Tennessee. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles just two months later. On the other side of the globe, North Vietnam launched the infamous Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and the United States. That’s a lot of awful for one span of 366 days (1968 was a leap year).

But, also in 1968, Star Trek treated American viewers to TV’s first interracial kiss. A bold (and controversial) act by three men in support of human rights took place on one of the world’s greatest stages – the Olympics. And the year came to an exhilarating finish with Apollo 8 orbiting the moon and offering the world an incredible look back at itself. So maybe it wasn’t all bad, after all.

In 1968, Jack Daniel’s (the distillery, not the man) was 102 years old, past the heralded Lem Motlow era, and well into the Brown-Forman years. Jack Daniel’s was already much-loved in Tennessee and throughout the United States. Thirteen years prior – in 1955 – Frank Sinatra had famously uttered onstage: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Daniel’s, and it is the nectar of the gods.” But Jack was not yet a global brand experiencing massive growth, nothing like the behemoth that it is today. That would start in earnest in the 1970’s.

So what would you expect of a bottle of Jack sent forward from 1968 into the future? Would you sense the tumult of history? Would there be a glimmering sensation that man was about to step foot on the moon after just having zoomed by for a good look? I had never asked myself those questions, but that changed last week when this bottle of 1968 Jack Daniel’s was set before me.


The setting for this taste of history was Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, itself a tribute to Tennessee’s whiskey past. Sean Brock, the executive chef and partner at Husk restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, was holding forth on the topic of Tennessee whiskey to a crowd gathered at the Southern Foodways Alliance summer symposium. He was joined by Charlie Nelson of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery and Nashville journalist Jim Myers. And then they starting passing around little plastic cups of brown water. The gathered crowd had no idea what we were in store for.

Brock has earned something of a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost hunters of rare bourbon. He has dished on the drink with Anthony Bourdain on TV, and all you have to do is look at his cabinet of collectibles in the bar at Husk to know that he is serious about tracking down – and sharing – rare and yearned for bourbons. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he had an unexpected bottle for us.

Like I said, I have no idea where Brock found this bottle – this 1968 Jack Daniel’s that was now before us. I have no idea how much he paid for it, or what dark closet floor it must have been inhabiting for decades. I was just thrilled to be given a chance to taste this whiskey that was born roughly a decade before I was, when stalks of corn harvested from Tennessee fields (at least I imagine so) soon met up with the limestone-rich spring waters of Lynchburg and artificial anything was nowhere in sight. GMO? What’s that? Fireball? Never heard of it. 

We smelled. We sipped. We savored from our small plastic cups. The 1968 Jack tasted unmistakably… Jack. If you’ve ever had Jack Daniel’s, you know what I mean. If not, feel free to remedy the situation in the near future. But the 1968 Jack also tasted unmistakably… long-lived. It had a haze of elusive maturity to it, not deeper, or richer, or even necessarily better than typical Jack. But it was more full of character. Actually, yes, it was better than typical Jack. Much better. If I had to peg the age-added notes dancing on my tongue, I’d lean towards almond extract or even baked almond meringues. But this tasting wasn’t about the tasting notes.

We turned our thoughts from almond aromas, and notes of caramel, to timelines and Tennessee.  We thought about what 1968 took from us, and what it left behind. We pondered the extent to which the world has taken in the lessons of 1968, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of trips to the moon. If only a glass of whiskey contained enough wisdom to answer any of that.

Closer to home, my mind turned from the historical landscape of Tennessee to one particular geographic corner – Memphis – where my late grandfather had already reached 55 years of age in 1968. I remembered being told that he had long ago joined the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Squires association, which bestowed upon him a small plot of land in “the Hollow, Lynchburg.” That may seem gimmicky today, but I have to think that Jack Daniel’s in 1968 was simply a source of Tennessee pride in the midst of sometimes shameful times. Maybe it still is.

Either way, there’s little doubt that my grandfather sipped some 1968 Jack Daniel’s back in his day. That very same year, my father turned 21 while studying at Memphis State University, and had his first opportunity to legally take a pour. So, as I sat in a Nashville distillery, three generations of my family shared a symbolic sip, looking at once back in time and towards the future, through the amber lens of Tennessee whiskey.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery Nashville Tennessee

Booker’s Rye Review: The $300 Limited Edition Whiskey You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find

Booker’s Rye Review: The $300 Limited Edition Whiskey You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find

Bookers Rye

Ready for this? The numbers on the new Booker’s Rye limited edition, AKA “Big Time Batch,” are pretty staggering:

  • Booker’s Rye, the first ever from the brand, is 13 years old, plus one month and 12 days. Awesome.
  • Booker’s Rye is bottled uncut at 136 proof (plus 0.2). Love it.
  • Booker’s Rye costs a suggested $299.99 (plus whatever markup there might be to account for scarcity). Say what?

The obvious first question is – “so is it worth it?” The obvious second question is – “if so, could I even find it???” Sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t answer either of those questions for you. What I will answer are the more pedestrian questions of – “so how does it taste?” and “is it any good?” With that in hand, you are then free to hunt it down and determine if it’s worth breaking out your Amex Centurion card for.

Before that, a bit of crucial background info. This rye is a tribute to Booker Noe, the legend who served as longtime master distiller for the Beam brands and founded their Small Batch Bourbon Collection (including Booker’s Bourbon and Knob Creek). Put in the barrel back in 2003, the new Booker’s rye was among the “last barrels laid down” by Booker Noe in the final years of his life. Amazingly, Booker’s has never released a rye in all those subsequent years. According to Booker’s son Fred, current master distiller:

Dad saw the difficult, temperamental rye grain as a challenge – small, but tricky to work with – and he never backed down from a challenge. So, in 2003, he went big and laid down barrels of a rye whiskey in his favorite rack house – creating the first ever Booker’s Rye Whiskey… Barreled as a small batch late in Dad’s life, Booker’s Big Time Rye is a rare, limited-edition rye whiskey that won’t come around again any time soon…  and I’m proud to release it in his honor this May.”

Without further ado:

40235_BookersRyeBottleBoxShotcopy Booker’s Rye, 2016 Limited Edition, “Big Time Batch”
136.2 Proof, uncut (and unfiltered), approx. $300 retail
Tasting Dates: May 26, 2016 – May 27, 2016
Thirsty South Rating: WOW*

Tasting Notes & Review:

Right away, the burnt orange/amber color of this whiskey conveys considerable age. A sniff of this heady stuff confirms it – loads of vanilla and toasty oak, an undertone of thin wintergreen wrapped in dark chocolate. The 136 proof is pretty well in check, and thankfully there’s nothing to suggest that this rye is over the hill – 13 years seems like it was just right.

Sipping neat, that high proof hits your tongue with a searing burn, but the burn quickly turns to pleasure, and that pleasure goes on and on in a loooong warm finish. There’s plenty of cinnamon apple, more vanilla, brown sugar – this is one hot-out-of-the-oven-dessert of a rye whiskey. For the high proof fans out there, this will really hit the spot – with great depth of flavors, good harmony, and a quick but measured alcohol punch to the gut.

Over a cube of ice, the aromas from the Booker’s Rye become more elegant, more refined, with plum fruit emerging from the vanilla and oak. And, wow, the intense burn is gone, replaced with a much more lush and full-bodied embrace.  The plum notes carry onto the palate, now like a plum and apple spiced cobbler. The finish is still long, though more subtle than when served neat, with the fruit jumping to the front alongside the cinnamon. It feels a touch more bourbon than rye, actually, but if you look for the rye spice, it’s certainly there in the background.

If you ask me, a single cube of ice is the way to go with this. You start sipping right away before the ice dilutes and you get the full power of the 136 proof. Within a minute, the ice brings down that brute force and smooths things out. Just don’t put too much ice in there, because this is a whiskey you’ll want to linger over – and bringing that high proof down too much would be a shame.

Fantastic stuff from Booker’s. Yep, I’m giving it a rare WOW rating. Would I plonk down $300 to buy a bottle? Personally, probably not; but if you’re the kind of person who has the ability and desire to spend that kind of cash on good whiskey, you’re not likely to regret it.

Unfortunately, Booker’s Rye is quite rare, so good luck tracking down a bottle. And all indications are that this will not be a recurring release. If you happen to track down a taste, look to the heavens and thank Booker Noe for his foresight some thirteen years ago.

*******************************
* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Booker’s. Photos courtesy Booker’s.

Drink Local: Atlanta Distilleries

Drink Local: Atlanta Distilleries

This week, I wrote a roundup for Creative Loafing of the four Atlanta distilleries now operating. Between Old Fourth Distillery, ASW Distillery, Independent Distilling Company in Decatur, and Lazy Guy Distilling up in Kennesaw, you can now stock a bar with Atlanta-made bourbon, vodka, gin, rum, corn whiskey, and more. Pretty amazing considering we had exactly NONE of that just a couple years ago. DRINK LOCAL, y’all!

I’d encourage fans of spirits and cocktails to visit all four of these distilleries, as all are up to interesting things, and their stills are all absolutely gorgeous (and all different). Below are some of my favorite outtakes, to give you a feel for the beauty in the stills. Also, be sure to check out Thirsty South’s full list of Georgia distilleries (not just Atlanta) and what they are producing.

Do check out the Creative Loafing roundup for more info, or comment below with any questions.

Old Fourth Distillery:
Old Fourth Distillery
Old Fourth Distillery


ASW Distillery:
ASW DistilleryASW Distillery


Independent Distilling Company:
Independent Distilling Decatur
Independent Distilling Decatur Independent Distilling Decatur
Independent Distilling Decatur


Lazy Guy Distilling:
Lazy Guy Distilling
Lazy Guy Distilling
Lazy Guy Distilling

High Wire Distilling, South Carolina Rum and Watermelon Brandy

High Wire Distilling, South Carolina Rum and Watermelon Brandy

HighWire Distilling Watermelon Brandy Lowcountry Agricole Rum

Whenever I see ratings from magazines like Whisky Advocate on spirits that are basically impossible to find, I impulsively groan. Why do they bother telling us how great these things are that 99.999% of us will never get to taste? It just further fuels the imbalance in supply and demand. But, you know what, I’m about to do the same thing they do – tell you about two spirits that are almost impossible to find. Why? Because they are unique and interesting, and because hearing about them might lead you to check out the very cool craft distillery that is making them.

I’m talking about High Wire Distilling Company in Charleston, South Carolina. I tasted their lineup last year and came away impressed, especially with their sorghum whiskey. Not long after, I saw that High Wire was doing their annual limited holiday release of a couple spirits – a rum they dubbed “Lowcountry Agricole” made with South Carolina sugar cane, and a watermelon brandy made from one particular type of heirloom watermelon grown on one single farm. The limited releases were pricey ($79.99 each), but I had heard and experienced enough about High Wire to give me confidence in the purchase. And I have to admit, the minuscule amount of each that was made (only 164 bottles! of the rum, and 259 bottles of brandy) simply added to the allure.

You’re not going to find these on a liquor store shelf, nor are you likely to find them in a bar, but hearing about them will hopefully pique your interest in the cool things one little distillery is doing on the “drink local” front in Charleston. And, who knows, maybe you’ll be able to secure a bottle of whatever they turn out later this year as their new limited releases. Co-founder Ann Marshall tells me the next release of the South Carolina rum is in barrel, made from sugar cane that was harvested in November in Darlington, South Carolina (a different farm than last year). And on the watermelon brandy front, they will be using the same variety/farm this coming year, though those watermelons are still just dirt and seed at this point. The other big news from High Wire is that their Jimmy Red Corn straight bourbon, which has been resting in barrel, will also be coming out as a limited release just in time for the holidays.

Back to the two bottles I procured this past holiday season, here are my tasting notes, along with a brief description from the distillery:

High Wire Distilling Company Watermelon Brandy
80 Proof
Distilled July 23, 2015, rested 4 months (not in barrel)
Retail price $79.99
Tasting dates: March 21-25, 2016

Their description: A storied spirit with a cult following, this Watermelon Brandy is distilled from the fermented juice of almost 300 Charleston Gray watermelons. The Charleston Gray varietal is the direct descendant of the famed Georgia Rattlesnake watermelon and was originally cultivated right here in Charleston. Sweet and distinctive, this brandy boasts a light and fruit forward flavor with soft, vegetal undertones. We recommend serving slightly chilled and neat. Only 259 bottles produced!

My notes: It’s funny, looking at this water-clear spirit and then sniffing it, my first impression was that it reminded me an awful lot of an unaged corn whiskey. The first notes that hit me were corn silk and a malty, grainy note. But right underneath that, especially towards the end of a good long whiff, there was indeed a subtle hint (OK, maybe a nudge) of watermelon. It does not whack you in the hand with watermelon (thank goodness, that would hurt), but once you look for it, it’s clearly there.

Sipping neat, the brandy is indeed light and subtle. You wouldn’t confuse it for vodka, but it does have kind of a pure, clarity to it that defies definitive description in terms of particular fruits (the watermelon is more present on the nose). The malty note becomes a bit more yeasty here, in a nice way. And the finish is long, warm, tingles the tongue.

Over ice, the nose doesn’t change much vs. neat, though the malt/grain note is a bit stronger. Sipping, the body is a bit more lush, as is typical with brandy over ice, and the biggest distinction is that a green vine note (rind?) comes in stronger

Intriguing stuff and totally unique, though I do wish the watermelon fruit were a bit more present in the final product.

High Wire Distilling Company “Lowcountry Agricole” Rum
80 Proof
Distilled December 5, 2014, barrel rested 12 months
Retail price $79.99
Tasting dates: March 21-25, 2016

Their description: Our Lowcountry Agricole is developed in the true style of the famous French West Indies rhum makers. Distilled at a very low proof from the juice of fresh-pressed sugar cane grown in St. George, SC by farmer, Manning Bair, and barrel rested for 12 months, our rhum agricole has a complex, earthy flavor with an incredibly long, sweet finish. A true terroir spirit, our rhum agricole is only the second true agricole made in the United States. Serve neat or with a single ice cube. Only 164 bottles produced!

My notes: The color of rich hay, this rum has an elegant nose that’s easy on the sugar – light vanilla, light caramel, a whiff of banana bread baking off in the distance, and some soft floral grassy-ness. It’s really quite lovely, and shapeshifting over time, with the time in the barrel providing a fleeting mellow bourbon character.

Sipping neat, again the sweetness is subdued compared to typical rums, and the herbal aspects of the sugar cane comes out more prominently (as with rhum agricoles) over the top of a funky (almost barnyardy) bass note. The year of aging has given this a nice balance of sharp, young assertiveness and smooth, vanilla depth. It’s not nearly as grassy-green as most Caribbean rhum auricles, but you certainly get the family resemblance. It makes me wonder how different South Carolina sugarcane is from what you’d find in the fields of Martinique.

Over ice, the earthy grassy elements dial up, and the sugar sweetness remains in check. In the hands of a good bartender, this could make some really interesting cocktails, though it doesn’t quite fit the mold of what you’d typically do with either a young rum or a traditional rhum agricole.

Fascinating spirit, and, like the watermelon brandy, one you’re not going to duplicate anywhere other than South Carolina.

HighWire Distilling Watermelon Brandy Lowcountry Agricole Rum

More info on High Wire’s limited releases at Charleston’s The Post & Courier.

Battle Aperitivo: Peychaud’s Aperitivo vs. Aperol

Battle Aperitivo: Peychaud’s Aperitivo vs. Aperol

Peychauds Aperitivo Aperol

The other day, the fine folks at Sazerac Company sent me a bottle of the new Peychaud’s Aperitivo (hitting shelves this spring). Like many cocktail enthusiasts, I dig Peychaud’s bitters, especially for making Sazeracs, and I also dig Italian aperitivi like Aperol and Campari. So this new offering certainly intrigued me. Sazerac sent along a press release that was surprisingly light on details, other than stating that their new product was made with “quality, simplicity and mixability in mind.” It also noted that the Peychaud’s Aperitivo is 22 proof, which happens to be the same as Aperol (Campari clocks in at a much more robust 48 proof). The color of Peychaud’s Aperitivo in the bottle also happens to be a dead ringer for Aperol. So I started asking around as to the provenance of Peychaud’s, wondering how similar the two might be.

Sazerac’s rep replied to my questions by stating that their “recipe and production are kept proprietary.” Their bottle, though, at least confirmed – “Product of Italy” – so we at least know that much. The two biggest Italian aperitivo producers that could possibly be working with Peychaud’s are Campari and Luxardo. Luxardo, whose aperitivo also rings in at 22 proof but sports a much brighter Jolly Rancher cherry red color, quickly replied to my question on if they were making it, stating “It’s definitely not us. :).” I also asked Campari USA (who markets both Campari and Aperol), but got no response (update: Campari responded saying that they do not make the Peychaud’s). So, no telling who the actual producer is.

Peychaud Aperitivo Aperol

Before I opened the bottle, I had the inevitable thought… could it be that Peychaud’s Aperitivo is really just Aperol in a different bottle with a different label? More importantly, I suppose – would it really matter? It’s safe to say there are vodkas, whiskey, and tequilas out there that are the same juice under different brands (tequila is a particularly interesting story – since every bottle is labeled with a code indicating which of the 139 legal distilleries produced the tequila, and since there are roughly ten brands for every single tequila distillery out there). I have no beef with distilleries (or NDPs – non-distiller producers) sourcing product and marketing it – as long as they are honest about what’s inside (do a search for Michter’s, Templeton, and Whistle Pig as examples of a few whiskey brands that have gotten into some trouble on this front in the past couple years).

My suspicions were shot down, though, as soon as I poured out these two Italian beauties side by side (neat, room temperature). Once out of the bottle, the Aperol was clearly a touch darker, one tiny step towards red and away from orange. And smelling the two, there was an even more significant difference – with the Peychaud’s carrying a substantially sharper bitter/herbal base note, and the Aperol being more pleasantly fruity (citrus) and floral. Sipping them side by side, the Aperol is more lush on the tongue, with a nice viscosity. The Peychaud’s, meanwhile, is somewhat thinner, with a shorter (though still substantial) finish. If you want a more assertive profile that starts to move in the direction of Campari, the Peychaud’s will float your boat – but Aperol is generally more balanced and harmonious, more easy-drinking.

Over ice, it’s a similar story, though the ice brings out the sweetness in the Aperol. In a spritz (with club soda and/or sparkling wine), the distinctions are understandably harder to pinpoint, but the conclusion remains the same – if you’re after a pleasant walk through Italian orange groves, go with the Aperol; and if you want a (mild) slap in the face to wake you up a bit, go for the Peychaud’s. Peychaud’s Aperitivo should be hitting shelves this spring, and is priced similarly to Aperol, around $20.

I should point out – the Peychaud’s Aperitivo is nothing like the complex spice bomb that their bitters provide. Sure, there are cinnamon and clove notes in there, but those are a minor note in the Aperitivo rather than the booming crash that the bitters provide (speaking of which, make yourself a Bitter Southerner No. 2 for an amazing use of Peychaud’s Bitters).

I appreciate that Peychaud’s want to keep an air of mystery about their new product, but I’d still love to know who is making this stuff, or at least a bit more on the formula. And if indeed it is the same folks behind Aperol or Casoni that are making this, I’d love to know a few hints as to how their formulations differ. Is that too much to ask? Maybe so. I’ll just go back to my spritzes and Americanos and Negronis and try not think too hard about what’s in the glass.

Peychaud Aperitivo