It is one of the most widely known whiskey brand, and also the bestselling American whiskey brand across the world. Yet there is a simple fact about Jack Daniel’s that continues to inspire confusion and debates among the lesser informed.
Is Jack Daniel’s a Bourbon Whiskey?
No it is not.
Why is Jack Daniel’s not a Bourbon Whiskey?
There are two answers to that question, and they both support each other so let us delve into the first, simpler answer.
The company does not prefer to call it Bourbon whiskey.
Instead, they prefer to call it Tennessee Whiskey. Although Jack Daniel’s meets all the requirements to be labelled a straight Bourbon, the makers of the world’s bestselling American whiskey beg to differ.
Like most Bourbon whiskey brands, Jack Daniel’s is produced on American soil. It has a predominantly corn-based mash bill, and is aged in new, charred-Oak barrels for at least two years. These are the legal terms that define a ‘straight Bourbon’ whiskey.
Jasper Newton ‘Jack’ Daniel, the man who established the Jack Daniel’s brand with help from Nearest Green, an African-American slave who taught him the art of distillation and served as the first Master Distiller at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery.
The makers of Jack Daniel’s choose to call it a Tennessee whiskey, a classification that only a few whiskey brands can claim based on their geography. The most crucial aspect that earns a whiskey the right to call itself ‘Tennessee whiskey’, besides being located in the state of Tennessee is the ‘Lincoln Country Process’. This brings us to the second part of our answer on ‘Why Jack Daniel’s is not a Bourbon’?
It undergoes the Lincoln County Process.
The Lincoln County Process is what sets Jack Daniel’s truly apart from all the other Bourbon whiskey brands throughout America. Surprisingly, Tennessee whiskey as a legal definition only requires the whiskey to be produced in the state of Tennessee, and not for the use of the Lincoln County Process. Although as a matter of prestige, the process is used by nearly all producers of Tennessee whiskey except one, Prichard’s Tennessee whiskey.
So what is the Lincoln County Process?
A stack of sugar maple timber is lit on fire and put out just before it burns the wood off completely. The resulting pieces of charcoal are ground to fine pellets and stacked into large ‘vessels’.
The distilled, un-aged spirit produced by Jack Daniel’s is then dripped through these charcoal pellets, slowly, over a period of time that lasts nearly five days and what trickles through, is ready to be sent into barrels for maturation.
This, is the famous Lincoln County Process that earns Jack Daniel’s and many other Tennessee distilleries the right to call their product, Tennessee Whiskey.
Interesting fact about Jack Daniel’s; The Moore county, where the Jack Daniel’s Distillery stands, is a dry county which means, legally, Jack Daniel’s cannot be sold in the very county where it is produced!
So how different are Bourbon whiskey brands from Tennessee whiskey?
Not much. It is only two factors that establish any sort of distinction between the two categories. One is geographical, meaning the distillery must be within the state of Tennessee and the second, unwritten rule is the practice of the Lincoln County Process.
These are the two things that separate Bourbon whiskey brands and Tennessee whiskey brands in the United States of America. They have been argued to be arbitrary restrictions and classifications by many, but some also argue that if American whiskey is to establish any challenge to create a Bourbon Vs Scotch whisky, or a Bourbon Vs Irish whiskey dynamic, these quality indicators are necessary.
Pictured to the right of Jack Daniel’s (white hat; centre), is Nearest Green, the man who shares the credit of helping create the Jack Daniel’s brand as it lives today.
Does it matter much to drinkers? Not really since most whiskey drinkers reserve their judgements for what’s inside the bottle and not on the label. You won’t meet a Bourbon-head who changes his preference to Scotch whisky overnight after reading about their making process.
Do all Jack Daniel’s whiskeys undergo the Lincoln County Process?
Yes. In fact, the Jack Daniel’s expression, Gentleman Jack undergoes it TWICE!
Double mellowing, that is what the company likes to call it. It’s smoother and mellower, designed to appeal to first-time drinkers and people who prefer whiskeys that are not as ‘harsh’ as the Old No.7.