Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 - Tennessee Whiskey Review

I spent the past week in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a work related conference.  Trapped in a meeting room by day and bored by night, my habit when travelling for work is to seek out great restaurants and the best purveyors of fine whiskey.  My trip to Halifax would not deviate from this practice.

I landed in the early evening, hopped in a cab and headed for the hotel down by the harbor.  Check-in involved slapping down a credit card, tossing my luggage on the bed and a quick double-back to the concierge's desk.

"Where's nearest liquor store?" I inquired.

"They are all closed," the blue blazer wearing early sixties gent replied with a Magnum P.I. Higgins character English accent.

"There is of course our mini-bar . . ."  His voice trailed off as precipitously as Thelma and Louise headed off that cliff in the closing scene of that stupid movie that I had to endure with some long forgotten girlfriend in a living room with red shag carpet, wood paneling on the walls, and her ever watchful, military, father down the hall. 

"Mini-bar . . . mini-bar" I fumed as I headed back to my room.  As I unpacked, I debated whether or not to wait until tomorrow, find a nice liquor store, select a great whisky and enjoy it in the evening.  On the other hand, I said to myself, "ya never know, there could be a real gem in the mini-bar just like that time I was in Maine and in a grocery store and all they had for whisky was Jim Beam Black.  That was a gem!"  More than a gem, it was a revelation of the tallest order, up there with Moses coming down Mount Sinai.  Anyway, you get the picture.  I was a tortured soul.

To distract myself, I flicked on the television, started unpacking and thought about going to the gym and doing some running.  One time I was in Vancouver for a meeting and was up every morning at 4am, ran for an hour on a treadmill, did a day of meetings and still had pep for a restaurant at night and touring that delightful city.  This time around, the urge for running didn't seem to come so effortlessly.

To make a long story short, I opened the mini-bar, peered in and saw the usual array of light beer for middle aged men worried about carbs and calories.  I surveyed some spicy Clamato juice, Grey Goose Vodka, yeesh!, and a 375 ml of Jack Daniels Old Number 7.  My first thought was "what the hell is Tennessee whiskey doing in a refrigerator!"  What depraved soul could commit such an inane indignity upon a bottle of this American whisky?  I knew what I had to do.  God himself would have commanded me to do it if I asked him.  Matter of fact Moses probably had it chiseled into the tablet, "Thou shalt rescue all Tennessee whisky from bowels of any refrigerator!"  The commandment or mitvah must have got lost at some point.  I am sure of it.  It is such a self-evident truth.

Of course, I did what any God fearing man would do, I plucked the chilled bottle from the fridge and set it down on a table next to a rather comfortable wing-back chair.  It needed to warm up.  Coincidentally, so did I.  I retrieved two glasses, one filled with ice water, the other empty, waiting for Ol' No. 7.

The last time I had Jack Daniels was in a trendy wine bar a couple of years back that was so trendy they didn't have any scotch.  I reluctantly asked the waitress repetitively "what else do you have?" until she finally remarked there was Jack Daniels.  I said sure and tried it on ice.  It was not what I expected.  First of all, I was ready for a snake bite taste coupled with a burning sensation that would leave me writhing on the Italian tile floor winded like Dustin Hoffman in the Marathon Man.  That was not the case.  I recall it was corn sweet with no burn.  The ice softened it nicely and there was some vanilla and charcoal.  In a flash it was gone.  Tasty drink.

Once the bottle warmed up, I tasted it neat.  The ice water was for drinking in between sips of Jack Daniels.  Over the course of the week, (except for one night when I went to a sushi restaurant and enjoyed some Yamazaki 12 and 18), I sampled this Tennessee whiskey and finalized the following tasting note:

Damp leaves; big American oak; a whiff of turned over earth with a spade in the early morning in search of worms to take brook fishing; big time vanilla.

Starts on sweet, that's the corn.  Moves to oak, charcoal and vanilla.

It's short.  The sweetness leaves and it dries across the palate.  Flavors of oak and vanilla dissipate almost instantly.  Nothing lingers very long.

General Impressions
I was again surprised at how mild this whiskey turned out in the glass.  No burn, rough or out of balance flavors.  It's very easy drinking.  Kinda reminds me of Basil Hayden's bourbon, but without the complexity.  If you drink Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 with ice, it is about as easy drinking as one can get.  Trouble of course is easy drinking runs the risk of not being overly interesting.  That would be the weakness of this whiskey.  It is not complex.  The flavors roll out in a straight forward manner.  Mind you, this is the entry-level, standard bottling of Jack Daniels, and so this observation has to be tempered by that fact.  Just as we do not expect wondrous complexity from Jim Beam White Label, or moving across the pond, from Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Red label and others, it would be unfair to place such demands on this standard, entry level offering from Jack Daniels.

For my tastes, I enjoyed it for what it was, a simple, mild American whisky.  Would I buy it?  No.  I require some complexity, even when I want an easy-going whisky.  Accordingly, I would buy Jim Beam Black Label but that is an 8 year old bourbon.  I am sure that Jack Daniel's premium lines like Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel would offer the complexity I seek. 

Do I dislike it?  No.  Would I recommend it?  Sure, for someone who has never tried American whiskey.  This is a good place to start.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Ah, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later! Jack was my entry into whiskey, and is, like you've suggested, pretty innoffensive. And yes, quite simple, sweet, with attractive charcoal, oak, and vanilla qualities. It is, however, a whiskey I would not buy it would cost me over twenty dollars American for a fifth (I live in super-duper Blue state, Illinois, Chicagoland area...) and although it is a pleasant booze that always conjures a little bit of nostolgia, it frankly isn't worth that kind of price tag to me. For about 7-8 dollars less I can pick up a fifth of Evan Williams Black (a reccomendation!),a 7 year old bourbon of surprising quality for such a price tag!

    Anyhoot, cheers!

    1. I'm scotch lover... I got one unit of it... I don't know should I taste it or gift it to someone...

    2. Tennessee whisky is obviously different in taste from Scotch whisky due to its mash bill, American south climate, American oak and a host of other factors. Scotch can be more complex if you have the good stuff, but I think you should try ol number 7. A straight forward flavor profile that may delight you. Broaden your horizons on this one friend.


  2. This was what introduced me to drinking before I got to college. A friend of mine got me a bottle of Gentleman Jack for my 21st birthday and it was pretty good; I'd like to see you review it sometime.


  3. Hi Jason. Just a week ago i went to my grandma's apartment to find some whiskey glasses (i remember as a child that she had some). By doing so, i stumbled upon a 1L bottle of Jack Daniel's old No7 in between rakija and vinjak bottles (i'm from Macedonia). I asked my dad where did it came from and he told me that he bought it in 1991 as a present for my grandfather who never opened it. This means that it was distilled not after 1984. Is it worth drinking? Will it be better after staying for so long inside the bottle, or it will be blant, without any burn? I remember when my son was baptized in 2008 my grandma opened a very old bottle of vinjak (ex-Yugoslav version of Cognac) and there was no alcohol in it, it had evaporated over time. I'd appreciate your answer. Your reviews rock by the way!

    1. I think it is highly likely that your old bottle of Jack Daniel's Ol' No. 7 is fine to drink provided that it has never been opened.

      The reason your Grandmother's old bottle of vinjak was not very good is probably because the cork closure had dried out and allowed air to infiltrate the bottle and over the years the alcohol evaporated out of it.

      If the metal cap on your bottle of Jack is intact and never been opened you are probably fine. I and some friends enjoyed a bottle of Dewar's Pure Malt that was roughly thirty years old and when I opened the metal cap, the whisky was fine.

      As for value of the bottle, I don't think the whisky marketplace places much value on ol No. 7 regardless of how old it is. The whisky marketplace focuses on single malts from Scotland.

      Anyhow, glad to read you enjoy the blog.

      Cheers and enjoy the JD!

    2. Hi Jason. I opened the old bottle. It's actually older than i thought. It's 45% ABV(90 proof). They stopped producing 90proof in 1987. As for the whisky, it blew me away. Much stronger and tastier than the 80proof they produce these days. I shared it with a huge Jack Daniels fan who is a friend of mine and he admitted that the old bottle is much better.

    3. I am envious! A higher ABV often can mean more complexity and wider range of taste profile.