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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

Jack and Evan, two singles looking to have some fun #whiskey

Jack and Evan, two singles looking to have some fun #whiskey

Jack Daniels and Evan WilliamsI posted this on Instagram the other day – having a little fun with the names of these two whiskeys and the fact that they’re both single barrel selections – “Jack and Evan, two singles looking to have some fun.” These were the two bottles I picked out to take with me on holiday. Both fun whiskeys. Both single barrel offerings.

The Jack was a single barrel selection I helped choose myself, a real “honey barrel” (AKA hitting the sweet spot of where this particular whiskey can go) if I must says myself. The Evan was one of a handful of bottles I picked up four years ago, in what I thought was a particularly good year (2010 release of bourbon put in the barrel in 2000) for the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel release.

The past couple nights, I’ve been tasting these side by side. And, dang, they are neck and neck in my book. Both great sips (I like them both with a single ice cube, but they do well neat, too). The Jack is indeed a touch mellower, with that charcoal filtering and all. The Evan is indeed a bit richer, a bit more toasty oak, a bit more brown sugar. (It’s worth pointing out that the Jack was roughly six years old, vs. ten years on the Evan Williams.)

But these are differences at the very edge of two fine whiskeys. I can’t help but think that, yes, despite all the madness around chasing rare releases – the Pappys and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collections and the this and that… we are blessed with a bounty of fine whiskey in the US of A, sitting on a shelf near you. Whether it comes from Tennessee or Kentucky, or maybe even somewhere else.

Happy holidays, and a happy new year.

Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

So the folks at Dickel have been sending me stuff. First there was a video. Then came a box delivered via Fedex. And inside that cardboard box was a wooden box. And inside that wooden box was a glass bottle. And inside that bottle was whisky. “Hand selected,” single-barrel, 9 year old George Dickel Tennessee whisky. In fact, this bottle was selected by the chap in the aforementioned video, one Doug Kragel, Dickel brand ambassador

It’s important to point out that this Dickel is different than the “Barrel Select” version (which I’ve previously reviewed). Both come from the single Dickel mash bill. Both are charcoal and chill filtered. The differences are the proof, the age, and the fact that one is small-batch bottled and the other single-barrel bottled.

The Barrel Select comes in at 86 proof. The Hand Selected rocks a 103. Barrel Select is 10 to 12 years old, though no age statement. Hand Selected is stated 9 years old (there is also a 14 year old offering, which ups the proof to 106 to boot). Barrel Select is a small batch of approximately 10-12 barrels. Hand Selected is a true single barrel.  And, while Barrel Select can be found pretty widely, Hand Selected is only available at stores that choose to purchase a whole single barrel (bottled at 103 proof) for their customers.

Dickel started this program last year to a good bit of fanfare, and it seems they’re giving the hand selected barrel program another push now. It’s good to see parent company Diageo investing some time and effort in bringing Dickel back into the limelight, at least a little bit, since it’s been somewhat of a neglected brand amidst the whiskey boom. Anything else you need to know? Oh yeah, how does it taste?

Dickel Barrel Select WhiskyGeorge Dickel Hand Selected Barrel Sour Mash Whisky, Aged 9 Years
Barrel #137
103 Proof
Approx. $45 Retail
Tasting Dates: November 1-9, 2014

Lovely deep copper color. I’ve got to admit that I was turned off by the nose at first – neat, in a Glencairn glass (the little tulip shaped glasses that lots of whiskey drinkers prefer for sipping neat), I got a lot of toasty sawdust, and the alcohol seemed on the aggressive, petrol side. It came across as anything but Dickel’s trademark “mellow.” I switched to a rocks glass, still neat, and the extra air worked some wonders. Ahhh, there’s the brown sugar, there’s the caramel buttered popcorn , there’s the ripe fruit, there’s a roasted walnut note. The toasted oak is still there, but very much in the background now. So much better. And you thought the glass didn’t matter…. (or if you thought the glass mattered, you probably would have assumed that the Glencairn would be the better glass – I know I did).

Dickel GlencairnSipping neat, the 103 proof comes through well – plenty of vanilla and cinnamon (though not overly so), a firm backbone of dark wood with candied walnuts, and a long warm finish with a touch of astringency weaving in and out. I’m not wowed, especially with that blemish on the finish.

A bit of water though mellows out the nose, and mellows out the wood on the palate as well. I actually prefer this with the water, as the dilution delivers a bit more balance, more peachy fruit, more easy drinking in a good way (easy drinking is not often my preferred descriptor, but here it plays well).  Ditto with a cube of ice – which adds a more lush mouthful and brings out the butterscotch notes. I’m thinking ice is the way to go. Very nice.

Funny enough, I actually prefer the Barrel Select to this particular Hand Selected Barrel, despite the lower proof on the Barrel Select. Here, at the higher proof, I think it needs a bit of ice or water to fully coax out the flavors. Of course, with a single barrel offering, every barrel will differ somewhat. Talk to your local bottle shop and ask them what they were going for in their hand selected barrel. If it sounds good, take a shot – this is nice whisky at a nice price. My verdict? *Good Stuff.

With that, I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of Dickel in (and next to) a box – handmade the hard way:

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

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* 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 Dickel.
The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

Dickel White Corn Whisky

One is young and clear as glass. One is old(er) and soft tan leather. Both are Dickel Whisky. When the fine folks from George Dickel offered to share a sample of their new “White No. 1 Corn Whisky,” I asked that they (please) also send along a sample of their roughly ten year old Dickel Barrel Select so I could compare the two side by side. I’ve long been a fan of Dickel – especially after visiting their bucolic distillery in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee. And I like the fact that they tend to do things a little differently than most others out there – like calling their whiskey “whisky,” or actually doing something unique (charcoal filtering) with the sourced rye from Indiana that so many others are just bottling and branding as their own.

Like the Dickel rye, the Dickel White No. 1 also gets the Dickel charcoal treatment, setting it apart from other white whiskeys (AKA moonshine), at least in some small way. And the Dickel White No. 1 is the exact same stuff that ends up in Dickel No. 8 and Dickel No. 12 and the Dickel Barrel Select. There’s one whisky mashbill being made in Cascade Hollow – 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% barley – and that’s what ends up in all the Dickel bottles except for that “Dickel” rye. (In case you weren’t counting, that’s nine Dickels so far in this paragraph. Make that ten.)

You know what else is different about the Dickel White No. 1? It’s 91 proof, vs. the  80 proof that shows up in other big brand white whiskey (see Jim Beam’s Jacob’s Ghost). Also, it’s priced rather well at $22, vs. other ridiculously premium-priced unaged whiskey  out there (see Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye – $50!???) .

So, how does the Dickel White No. 1 taste? Can you actually see the family resemblance between this youngster and its elder, the Barrel Select? On with the tasting notes and review.

Dickel White Whisky

George Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1
91 Proof
Approx. $22 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff*

Like I said, this stuff is clear as glass, though clearly thicker than water. The nose is clean, but packs a ton of grain – you get the popcorn first, then a Sugar Smacks cereal rush, with a toasty malt depth in the background and an elusive bit of green corn silk and husk. It’s actually quite nice, though a far departure from the sweet heat that this will turn to after years in a barrel.

Sipping neat, the corn/grain character continues, with some alcohol heat building through a long, lip-tingly finish. It makes for pleasant sipping, though I think it may be better served as the basis for creative cocktail making. Ice brings out some lush thickness in the whisky, but also seems to bring out a bit of that charcoal effect. It’s darn good for a white whiskey, and if I were more of a fan of white whiskey in general, I’d probably rate this higher – I just prefer the older stuff.

Dickel Barrel SelectGeorge Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky
86 Proof
Approx. $40 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

Dickel’s Barrel Select is a small batch of 10-12 barrels at a time, and 10-12 years old (though not with an age statement on the bottle). The nose here is beautiful, mellow, and balanced – you may get a tiny bit of that corn grain, but it’s well overshadowed (nicely so) by light brown sugar and lush tropical fruit and warm leather and toasty light wood. There’s so much textbook American whiskey stuff going on here, without any overbearing oak, I’m sorry I haven’t been drinking more of this over the years.

Sipping neat, the first thing that stands out is the fruity character – ripe peach, simmering in a skillet with butter and brown sugar. It’s rich and full, and cinnamon spice starts to come out after a few seconds, along with warm vanilla. There’s a bit of green woodiness in the middle that knocks it down a tiny notch in my book, but the finish is long and pleasantly cinnamon hot. Damn good stuff, very nice for the price, worthy of a go for any bourbon fan.

A cube of ice brings out the fruitiness on the nose even more, but also some syrupy sweetness. It dials down the green wood in the middle, but also slightly dulls the warm spice and vanilla. Again, I’d go neat rather than subject this one to ice, but that’s just personal preference.

Do I see the family resemblance? Not so much, to tell you the truth. One is young and corn focused, the other achieves a beautiful balance of grain and oak and time. I appreciate that both the young Dickel and the elder Dickel have a smoothness to them that doesn’t detract from the flavor – so maybe that’s the Dickel profile, the impact of the charcoal mellowing. In any case, both are Tennessee goodness in a bottle. After all, Dickel’s for drinking.

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* 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: Both tasting samples were provided by George Dickel.

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for so many things, one of the smallest of which is the camaraderie, conversation and just plain fun that has come of sharing the Thirsty South. On our table there will be a very good bottle of the single barrel Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey that was picked out for my father-in-law’s 85th birthday on a recent trip to Tennessee whiskey country. And a turkey that is still sitting peacefully in a lemon/herb brine in the fridge. Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Cheers!