Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select O’Brien’s Wine Barrels 1 & 2 Review

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With over 150 years of history, the Jack Daniel’s brand and distillery was established by founder Jasper Newton ‘Jack’ Daniel in Moore County, TN in 1886. The youngest child of 10, Jack ran away from home as a young child and found refuge with Baptist preacher and distiller Dan Call. Under the supervision of Call and his Master Distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green (an enslaved African-American man who continued to work with Call after emancipation) Jack was taught the distilling trade. After facing pressure from his clergy, Call eventually left the distilling operation and so Jack purchased the hollow and land where the modern-day distillery is now located, registered the distillery under his name, and continued operations with Green as his first Master Distiller. The No. 7 distillery quickly gained a strong reputation for the quality of its whiskey and even won the its first gold medal for its whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. In subsequent decades, however, numerous setbacks to the distillery operation, including the cessation of distillation due to state and National Prohibition, saw the distillery shuttered for many years. Then under the ownership of Jack’s nephew Lem Motlow, the distillery wasn’t fully reopened until after the second world war in 1947 after good-quality corn was once again available. Following Motlow’s death in the same year his sons continued to run the business until eventually selling the operation to the Brown Forman Corporation in 1956.

Under Brown-Forman’s leadership and guidance, Jack Daniel’s whiskey and brand flourished. In the decades that followed the sale of the brand, the distillery returned to and surpassed its pre-prohibition strength and the brand underwent the transformation from a little known regional whiskey to an American icon as synonymous with the rock and roll movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Moving into the 80’s and 90’s the brand entered an age of innovation with products like Gentleman Jack, and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel added to the portfolio as well as the setup of the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue® competition .

In modern times, under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Jeff Arnett and his team, the Jack Daniel’s brand has continued to prosper and in 2018 was ranked the most valuable global spirit brand. Further brand extensions now cover 16 different labels and include a full range of rye whiskies, several flavoured whiskies, several limited edition bottlings such as their Sinatra Select, a range of ready to drink offerings, and numerous distillery-only releases under their Tennessee Tasters. The distillery itself is still located in and around a hollow known as “Stillhouse Hollow” or “Jack Daniel’s Hollow”, where a spring flows from a cave at the base of a limestone cliff and provides the water used in creating every drop of whiskey. The distillery produces around 16 million cases of whiskey every year and in 2013 Brown Forman announced that they were investing $100 million dollars in an expansion of the Jack Daniel Distillery in response to global demand. The investment included the addition of stills, barrel warehouses, and related infrastructure to support the expanding operations and at present Jack Daniel’s have 89 barrel houses in Lynchburg, with each aging approximately 20,000 barrels of whiskey.

First released in 1997 under then Master Distiller Jimmy Bedford, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel select features standard Jack Daniel’s but from select casks that have been aging for longer than the standard release in the warmest spots of the rack houses to give a more robust and complex whiskey. Once dumped the whiskey is then cut to 90 proof (UK edition) and bottled in ornate square decanters. In 1998 Jack Daniels opened their By the Barrel program which allowed customers to choose a single barrel of their whiskey and was made available to retailers, distributors, and whiskey groups finding quick success with those that wanted a Jack Daniels offering with a more complex flavour profile and a higher bottling proof.

In 2016 it was announced that the By the Barrel program was to evolve into the Personal Collection program. An extension of the old program, the whiskey would still only be from barrels picked from the top of the Jack Daniel’s warehouse which are specially set aside as they are exposed to the most extreme temperatures, and therefore, have the most flavour and colour. In addition to this, the new program offered a more special and personalised experience for buyers with several different ways to make their barrel selections. Now customers can have the barrel selected for them by the Master Distiller, receive samples based on flavor profiles, or travel to the distillery in Lynchburg and select their barrel with the help of the Master Distiller or his team of Master Tasters. Jack Daniel’s has also added premium collectibles and experiences to every Personal Collection selection including a custom barrel head, framed barrel certificate, a unique purchase certificate, luxury decanter, and glassware. In addition, customers also receive a personalised Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel bottle with their name or special message and are commemorated with their name in the Barrel Recognition Room in Lynchburg, TN.

Launching in Ireland in 2014, the Jack Daniel’s By the Barrel programme has seen a number of barrels entering the market through large supermarket franchises and airport duty free shops to great success and acclaim from Irish JD fans. Thus, when it was announced last November that the largest family-owned drinks retailer in Ireland O’Brien’s Wines were bringing in two barrels of Jack Daniel’s single barrel select fans got understandably excited.

Starting as a mixed grocery store in 1945, the now iconic O’Brien’s Off Licence brand became one of the largest and well-trusted name in the Irish wine import and sale business after the O’Brien family acquired The Wine Corner in Donnybrook in 1978. Now boasting over 1000 wines available in each of its stores, the quality of the spirits section has been consistently impressive even as far back as when I started collecting American Whiskey in 2015. Now boasting a wide range of American whiskies it only makes sense that O’Brien’s would invest in these single barrel offerings from Jack Daniel’s.

Today I’ll be taking a look at both the Jack Daniel’s single barrels chosen by O’Brien’s Wines. As stated previously the first barrel was launched before Christmas in November of 2019 and the second barrel is set to hit shelves sometime in 2020. Both are bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV) and from the same rick but were separated by a single barrel in between.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select
‘O’Brien’s Wine Barrel 1 2019’
‘Sweet Forward’
45% ABV Rick No. L-14 Barrel #163616

Nose: The nose opens with slightly warm toasted oak notes with deep brown sugar, earthy baking spices, faint dark chocolate, citrus oil, and a touch of dried cherries. As you continue to sniff more bitter spices like clove and faintly herbaceous oak also emerge on the nose.

Palate: The palate opens viscous with faint sweet brown sugar and creamy toffee before grassy barrel notes, earthy baking spices, and a dash of peppery rye emerge. The more you chew it the more brown sugar, barrel char, dark chocolate, faint dried cherries, a touch of toasted almonds, and earthy peanuts notes also emerge.

Finish: The finish opens with a prickle of black pepper spice before moving into a long aftertaste of faintly tannic oak spices, sweet caramel, citrus oil, and dark chocolate.

The sample from this barrel was labelled as ‘Sweet Forward’ and drinking this you have no doubt as to why. Whereas the standard single barrel tends to have notes of powdered sugar dark chocolate, banana, and dark cherries, this barrel has all the above without the cherries. Instead it is very sweet forward with a dominant sugar syrup-like sweetness building on the palate as you move past the initial butterscotch note, and that runs concurrent with the remaining notes. There is also a decent amount of barrel influence with the oak shining through and balancing the light brown sugar notes, toasted oak notes, and the sugar syrup sweetness. Unfortunately, I also get a lot of spicy young oak notes and some ‘green’ oak notes which would suggest that this barrel is on the young side of the spectrum. Compared to the standard JD single Barrel profile this one is more fleshed out with some unique nuances that I wouldn’t usually associate with a typical JD single barrel. Instead of cherries covered in dark chocolate there’s some delicious toasted oak, only a touch of dried cherries, a decent heft of both spice and citrus oil, and less of a bitter charred oak note. The aftertaste is also quite vegetal and spicy with citrus oil and oak spice lingering for a long time after you’ve swallowed your last sip. Overall, it is still a JD single barrel at its core but with enough of a difference that it can stand on its own as something special for JD fans to try.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select
‘O’Brien’s Wine Barrel 1 2020’
‘Full-Bodied & Robust’
45% ABV Rick No. L-14 Barrel #163618

Nose: The nose opens with butterscotch, thick vanilla, dark cherry, earthy baking spices, and a touch of toasted oak and toasted coconut.

Palate: The palate opens with a red apple covered in sweet brown sugar caramel, before notes of creamy milk chocolate envelops the tongue. As you continue to chew these become fudgier with the chocolate component being replaced by toasted oak, tingling baking spices, and a dark cherry note in the back.

Finish: The finish opens with earthy baking spices, faint roasted peanuts, and an aftertaste of milk chocolate, spicy toasted oak, and dark cherries.

Now this is a truly delicious whiskey and despite being a TN whiskey, the profile very much reminds me of a dusty bourbon with notes that taste and roll over the tongue in the same way as a dusty Wild Turkey would. However, as a JD single barrel it is an experience that is packed with butterscotch, toasted oak spice, and milk chocolate that just doesn’t give up. As you continue to drink this it gets increasingly spicier on the palate but this spice never overwhelms the more intricate notes. This is definitely not as sweet as the first barrel but it still has enough red fruit, creamy chocolate, and butterscotch to balance out the spicy toasted oak notes. Of the two it also tastes like it’s slightly older with a level of complexity that keeps bringing you back to the glass. Compared to the standard release of JD single barrel the two are night and day. This barrel again lacks the ripe bananas and cherry-heavy notes whilst being better balanced across its flavours and just provides an fantastic sipping experience. Of the two barrels I would go for this as it tastes great. I definitely need a bottle or two of this barrel in my life!

Overall

These single barrels have really opened my eyes to the level of variance that you can get by picking up a JD Private Select single barrel bottling as opposed to the standard JD single barrel. Whereas the standard release tends to stay within a certain flavour profile these single barrels have both completely gone off the reserve and in opposite directions. One is sweet and tastes younger, whereas the other is robust and complex whilst tasting older. Both have retained their JD DNA and spirit but are also arguably better tasting and more complex than the standard bottling of JD single barrel that I drank alongside them. Of the two, the ‘Full-Bodied and Robust’ barrel was my personal favourite but for others the ‘Sweet Forward’ barrel came out on top. Either way I would suggest that any Irish fans of Jack Daniel’s check out at least one if not both these single barrels.

Try or Buy?

I’m not aware of these being available to try anywhere in Ireland but at a retail price of just under €60 these are a no-brainer buy. In fact, I’m going to pick up at least two bottles of barrel #2 when it’s released this year!

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