What makes a Tennessee whiskey different from bourbon? How do you tell the difference between Tennessee whiskey, bourbon, and scotch? And is it true that a certain singer was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s? With those questions in mind, Options experiences a one–of–a–kind sampling of American Tennessee whiskey. 

SINGAPORE (July 17): Legend has it that iconic American crooner Frank Sinatra, was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and a dollar’s worth of dimes. The singer was said to be such a huge fan of the American–grown whiskey maker that in 1955, he apparently held aloft a bottle of the famous whiskey at one of his shows and told the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Daniel’s, and it’s the nectar of the gods.”

After Sinatra did that, it was said that Jack Daniel’s annual distribution doubled from 150,000 cases to 300,000 — an impressive feat for any whiskey brand with humble beginnings.

Jack Daniel’s is the largest-selling brand of Tennessee whiskey, and remains the best-selling American spirit. In 2014, the label sold almost US$3 billion ($4.1 billion) worth of whiskey. It is also still made exclusively in its distillery in Tennessee. Its origins date back to 1864, when Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel established the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee — the oldest registered distillery in the US — next to the Cave Spring Hollow where the clear, untouched water is being drawn till today to make the whiskey.

Charcoal mellowing

At first glance, it is difficult to tell Tennessee whiskey and bourbon apart, as they begin life in exactly the same way. Both are made in America — scotch, in this case, is differentiated by geography, being made in Scotland — and require the same corn percentage (minimum of 51%) in its mash.

Both must also be aged in new charred oak barrels. But what makes Tennessee whiskey special is that it has to adhere to strict requirements, in what is called the Lincoln County Process — where unaged, freshly–distilled whiskey (or “new make whiskey”) must be filtered through charcoal, or “charcoal mellowing”.

The un-aged whiskey must be dripped slowly through ricks of charcoaled sugar maple tree wood, which are native to Tennessee. This mellows the flavour of the whiskey, infusing it with a distinct, yet gentle smokiness, removing many of the congeners (impurities) and lending a richness to the whiskey. It also lends a lighter, sweeter and smoother finish to the whiskey compared to bourbon, which is more robust.

Luxury collection

Today, the brand is owned by American spirits and wine company Brown–Forman, who has held the brand since 1956. But the tradition remains: Brown– Forman is marking its 150th anniversary with the launch of its flagship store on e–commerce platform, Lazada. The company is looking to make its flagship store on LazMall its most comprehensive online store in Asia, where all new and exclusive products will be slated to debut in the future.

The online store will also be a resource of information, where the global team of ambassadors and specialists will continually share their expertise with consumers, from technical information, cocktail recipes to entertaining tips. In conjunction with the launch, whiskey enthusiasts in Singapore can get a taste of Jack Daniel’s Craft & Luxury Collection — a collection made up of the Single Barrel Collection as well as the Jack Daniel’s No. 27 Gold and Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select.

We were recently given an opportunity to sample the collection under the guidance of Brown–Forman’s regional brand ambassador, Grant Shearon. We were in safe hands: Shearon has over 20 years of experience and is a veteran of the industry. He took us through the collection, guiding us through the compliments and contrasts of flavours.

We started with the Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select ($112, 750ml), which is hand–selected from the highest reaches of the barrel house and bottled in the smallest of batches, just one barrel at a time. This smooth, robust 94–proof Tennessee whiskey has subtle notes of sweet, smoky caramel and spice, with just a tiny hint of overripe banana. It’s warm, lingering finish is pleasant and memorable, and will certainly please even the pickiest of whiskey fans.

The Single Barrel 100 Proof ($117, 750ml) on the other hand, is much more intense, with a robust taste of oak, lightened with hints of caramel and vanilla. Next up was the 94–proof Single Barrel Rye ($112, 750ml), which is a singularly unique blend of the smoothness of Jack Daniel’s with a 70% rye grain bill.

My personal favourite of the collection, the Single Barrel Rye boasts complex flavours of ripe fruit, mingled with light toasted oak notes to create a taste rich with spice, and pleasant lingering finish. It is also surprisingly sweet, but not sickly.

Aside to the Single Barrel Rye, Jack Daniel’s has also created its Tennessee Rye ($79, 700ml), its first and brand new rye mashbill — at 90 proof with an aroma of soft fruit, and underlying rye spice and oak, with well-rounded flavours of caramel. Only available in certain markets, you can get your own bottle in Singapore from the Brown– Forman flagship store on LazMall.