Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review: Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey

I was recently out for drinks one summer evening.  I and some friends were sitting in a cafe, under an umbrella, waiting for the waitress to take our drinks order.

I sureveyed the spirits list and it was fairly short.  There was Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, Jim Beam White Label and Jack Daniel's Old No. 7.  The cafe is known for great nachos and appetizers.  Not whiskies.  I was ok with that.

"I'll have Jack Daniel's and a glass of water."  I like to sip water in between pulls of ol' Jack.

"Do you want that with ice?" she asked.

"No.  I'll be fine, but a glass of water also," I replied.

My fair waitress took all of my friends orders and disappeared only to reappear with another waitress who said, "You wanted ice right?"  Maybe the first waitress was new or it was her first night working.  Big sista had to clear up the mystery of my order.

"No.  Neat will be fine."

I could tell from the quizzical gaze from big sista waitress that using terms like 'neat' was creating confusion.

"No ice, just a shot in a glass and a second glass of water would be great."  I spoke slowly like I was asking for a phone number from an automated telephone directory assistance.  My voice had all the charm of Shimon Peres as I wanted to make sure I was understood.

Evidently,the two waitresses were not accustomed to neat Tennessee whiskey drinkers.  Anyhow, ol' No. 7 was a great compliment to a night of nachos, calimari and light conversation.  A lot of people, who are not familiar with this American whiskey, assume that it is a very strong drink that has a kick comparable to a roundhouse kick from Bruce Lee in his prime.  Not so.  Old No. 7 is a gentle giant that is quite smooth and pleasing for easy-going conversation on a summer's night.

However . . . No. 7's older brother . . . Single Barrel Select is another matter.  As the name implies, this Tennessee whiskey is not blended but rather drawn from individual barrels selected based on tastings by experts at the distillery.  Due to the fact that there is no blending, one can expect a considerably more robust flavor profile.  Single Barrel lives up to that expectation.  It is very powerful and I can say with absolute certainty that this is not recommended for the newcomer to American whiskey.  Don't start here!  Why?  It's simply too strong.  Let's move on to my tasting note and then we can return to this point.

Nose (undiluted)
Leather, vanilla and maple woven together with complexity.  Impressive aromas.

Palate (undiluted)
When I first opened the bottle and poured a drink, I found the whiskey to be very 'hot' and quite frankly 'burning' on the throat.  Two weeks later, the whiskey had become more rounded and lost most of the hot, sharp burn, but not entirely.  The softening of flavors was no doubt a result of exposure to a modest amount of air in the bottle, and that is a good thing. 

Back to the taste:  Not as sweet as Old No. 7, although there is still a sweetness initially detected.  Flavors of spiced rye make an appearance, arm in arm with vanilla, barbecued ribs and oak. 

Finish (undiluted)
Strong finish of wood, a little ash/char maple sugar.  Fairly long finish.

Add Ice? 
Adding ice makes this more palatable than served neat, but there is still that nasty burn.  Ever so faint as the ice melts, but it is present in the base of the throat.  Ice doesn't improve this drink.  The fact that ice cannot take away that burn suggests to me that it is simply too strong to drink.  It is not a mainstream American whiskey.  Maybe this spirit would work well as an ingredient in a cocktail of some kind?  I can imagine that, but until I actually try such a whiskey based cocktail, I am doing little more than speculating.

General Impressions
This is strong stuff.  You really want to take little sips.  Tastes, feels and intoxicates the way you expect Tennessee whiskey can.  It's packs a real wallop.  It leaves a lingering ash flavor in the back of the throat.  Nothing is flawed, but this is just not my cuppa tea or should I say dram.  This is just too much.  Little sips is not enough to minimize a slight discomfort of a burning sensation.  You have to add water or ice to make this more palatable.

The alcohol per volume is 47% and it can be tasted.  To be a stellar American whiskey I would not want to be thinking I am drinking something that strong.  This is where scotch whisky can shine.  For example, Highland Park 25 years is of comparable alcohol by volume, but as you drink it, you are not aware of such a high alcohol content.  This is due to the genius of the people at Highland Park.  Jack Daniel's fails on this point.  It's semi-smooth but take a little too much and you will quickly find your stomach doing some serious butterfly action.  If you have a weak stomach, pass on this one.

In light of the above, this is a whiskey for the serious drinker and fan of bourbon and/or Tennessee whiskey.  Not for the faint of heart.  Many of my readers are in Australia and New Zealand and they are serious fans of American whiskey.  In general, they will no doubt enjoy this more than my Canadian and UK readers who are casual fans of American whiskey.  If you are a casual fan of bourbon or Tennessee whiskey, I would avoid this one.

Price Point
Price obviously varies depending on where you live.  I bought this in New Hampshire for $46.00.  Not cheap, especially in a state that is known for low taxes, as well as the motto on vehicle license plates: "Live Free or Die" which probably should be interpreted as "Live Tax Free or Die" given the State's unrivaled attempt to keep taxes to a minimum.  Bottom line:  I find Single Barrel to be too expensive for what you get.  Wild Turkey 101 and Buffalo Trace are about half the price and better in my opinion.

For American whiskey, I am a big fan of Jim Beam Black, an 8 year old bourbon.  Interesting, smooth yet nuanced and affordable American whiskey is what Jim Bean Black is to me.  I also enjoy Knob Creek and Wild Turkey 101.  Basil Hayden's 8 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon is also a pleasant, gentle tipple that everyone can enjoy due to its considerable smooth quality.  But, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel is just over the top for me.  It is up front very strong and I am fearful of upsetting my stomach.  I am not a fussy or sensitive fan of American whiskey, but this stuff would put the fear of God in me with every tiny, I mean tiny sip. 

If you surf the web, you can find many positive reviews of this whiskey.  For example, the has reader reviews that are very positive, but you have to factor in that those readers are all American whiskey aficionados.  You have to ask yourself if you are also a connoisseur of Tennessee whiskey?


Jason Debly

NoteSince this particular bottling of Jack Daniels comes from a single barrel, it is certainly possible that this just happened to be a particularly strong one.  The subject of this review was bottled on November 24, 2009 and came from barrel number 9-4870.  Nevertheless, somebody at Jack Daniels had to taste from this particular barrel before making the decision to bottle.  Maybe other single barrel bottlings (obviously from different barrels) will be softer and more approachable. 

Photo Credits:  All photos by Jason Debly, all rights reserved, except for photo of New Hampshire license plate, which belongs to: Amy the Nurse who holds all rights to said photo.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013.  All RIghts Reserved.


  1. When ordering at a bar/restaurant, why do they insist on adding ice? The first time I tried Jim Beam Black, I forgot to order it neat or “straight up”. The glass was filled with chipped ice. How can I figure out if I like the flavors of the spirit unless it is by itself? Later on I will add water or ice to see if it makes it better or worse. When I did order it neat, I also got a tilted head stare from the waitress like I was crazy. By the way, the Jim Beam Black is very nice neat.

    Again, this is why I like your reviews. Not everything you review is “the best drink every”, with no flaws. There are things you like better than others. Personally, I think Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 is too alcoholic hot and now I won’t be trying the single barrel either.

    Kevin – Milwaukee, WI

  2. Kevin, quite frankly, Jim Beam Black is my favorite bourbon, and of course, neat is the only way to have it. I totally agree.

  3. Ordering in Scotland is another matter. Quite often you'll receive the dram in a tasting glass and you'll be asked whether neat, ice, water etc.

  4. Raithrover, I think I will have to investigate the immigration policies of Scotland . . .

  5. Hi Jason! Haven't tasted this whiskey, but remember that as a single barrel other bottlings will taste different. Thanks for what you do!

  6. John, you are correct. There can be considerable variance between barrels. This is not the desire of the distiller but it can be the case as no two barrels are the same.

    With respect to this particular Single Barrel, I should point out to readers the bottling date was 11-24-09 and the particular barrel number was 9-4870.

    Maybe other bottlings from different barrels are superior, but not the one I had.

  7. I just purchased a bottle from my local package store in Glassboro, NJ. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to taste it a couple of weeks ago when it was first displayed. Their local representative was there as well as the owner of the store and we had an interesting conversation about how they selected their barrel. Apparently, the distributers allow purchasers to taste samples from barrels and make a decision based on the one the like the most.

    The sample I tried that evening was beautifully strong. I found it robust with pronounced flavors a vanilla, caramel, etc... Yes, it was hot but not to the degree the reviewer experience. I knew I had to buy it and I'm glad I did. I'm thankful my package store picked well...

    Washington Township, NJ

  8. Hello Mike!

    I think a key issue to note about single barrel offerings by Jack Daniels or any other distillery is that you are held hostage by the individual barrel that your bottle comes from. There can be a fair amount of variation between barrels, as appears to be the case with Jack Daniels Single Barrel. Since there is no blending involved in the bottling process, it is more difficult for the distillery to consistently produce the same flavor profile.

    I suspect that your bottling is probably a lot more approachable than the one I had.

    As you astutely pointed out, try before buying where ever possible.

    Thanks for telling me your impressions.

  9. Oh brother! You either like Jack or Jim Beam. Similar to beer, Miller or Bud. I would suggest that if you have a fondness of Jack then you will love the single barrel. Conversely the same for Jim Beam. I don't think the individual barrel has anything to do with it. Both Regular Jack and Jim goes through a barrel process and I have yet to see any discernible difference dispute much practice. The regulators see to it believe me. It simply comes down to preference.

  10. Hi Anonymous!

    I enjoy Jim Black and the ol' number 7. The single barrel of Jack was obviously a disappointment. Sometime I will pick up another bottle.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  11. Not the biggest whiskey drinker, but I've had every drink you mentioned in this article, and the Jack Single Barrel Select is far and away my favorite. I do take it with rocks, as it is too strong not to, but, for me, this did take away the burning sensation. I'm on my second bottle in the last month or two, and they've both been great. Certainly strong, but man is it smooth.

    1. Single Barrel will vary from barrel to barrel as no two are the same. I think I got a bottle of some particularly strong stuff. Subsequent bottles were more gentle.

      Nevertheless, ice seems to be desirable with this once.

  12. im thinking this or compass box aslya. this JD seems too expansive to take that chance on a barrel liking. the distiller should right tasting notes from that barrel. Has anyone match there barrel number up to another one.

  13. Hey there Jason recently picked up a bottle of this single barrel I do agree that no two barrels are the same. considering a fellow bartender got a bottle forher birthday. hers was mellower and less harsh than the bottle I purchased. living proof the single barrel bottles are truly unique to each bottle.

    1. Single Barrel is too unpredictable for my liking and because of that I would not buy it again.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Readers and I enjoy reading about your experience with this American whiskey.

  14. I recently got two bottles of Single Barrel for Christmas and had the opportunity to compare them. Strangly enough they came from two different people...(that may be a hint to me that I drink too much Jack...)

    Anyway, I found them both to be enjoyable and close enough in similarity that I could not easily tell the difference.

    I am not an experienced drinker by any means, but I do drink a good amount of American whiskey and I find this to be one of the better ones I have had. I have found that single barrel is smoother and goes down easier than the regular Jack does despite it's higher APV. To me the strength of it is a positive because it allows me to savor the drink one small sip at a time as opposed to weaker whiskeys where a larger sip is called for.

    Anyway, thats my impression. Thanks for your reviews by the way. I have enjoyed reading them.

    1. I also have a new bottle of Singe Barrel and it is very good. Nothing like the one I reviewed above. I just got a bad batch, the first time round. I will posting a review of my new Single Barrel soon.

  15. Good night.
    Hi, first sorry about my bad english, is not my natural language, congrats about your blog. I know you wroted this long time ago, read the recent comments but don´t know if you like to see new comments about old articles.
    Anyway I drinked Single Barrel yesterday for the first time, i liked, i think Gentlemans Jack taste is better, but in the day after i use to have headache and didnt have anything bad in the day after of Single barrel (today). I think is bodied, tasteful, something is sweet, is strong, but not too much, in the end, for me, is softer than JD number 7.
    Thank you.

    1. Welcome to the blog. Feel free to comment anytime!

  16. Jason, glad to see you came around on JDSB! I'm really enjoying the hell of a bottle of this tonight. I find the JDSB to have a unique profile, with a strong Wintermint note to balance the woodiness, and a sweet cherry tobacco to bring it all home. Funny enough, when I opened this bottle I found it too woody, but now six months later it's just perfect. Maybe the dumpy bottle profile really helps, with a lot of surface to take the oxygen in. I really like it with a splash of water, maybe because it's summer. I'm looking forward to the next one, and yes they do vary, vive la difference! This is on my short list of favorite bourbons (yes, yes, it's from Tennessee but still a bourbon, whisky, whiskey, whatever, can we all get along) together with Rare Breed and maybe Blanton's. (I like Jim Beam black too, but haven't had it in a while.)

    1. Hello Florin!

      I just find the Single Barrel too expensive for what I get, and what I get is unpredictable, as the barrels do vary.

      I was back in New Hampshire and picked up more bourbon, and one shocker of a deal was a bottle of Old Grand-Dad Bonded 100 proof for $14.99!!!!!!!!!!!! With a bargain like that or aged bourbons, and higher quality ones like Rare Breed for half the price of Single Barrel, I just think I will not be back to it for a long while.

      Thanks for taking your time to comment!

    2. The price ratio is better for what I have access to - about $33 for Rare Breed and $42 for JDSB, so I don't mind that aspect. On your next trip see if you can locate a bottle of Willett Single Barrel, the thin tall bottles, any age, all the ones I tried were stunners.

  17. I agree with your review of this whisky. It seemed hot, and a little harsh. Four Roses Single Barrel is a far superior whiskey, in my opinion.

  18. Being fairly new to Bourbon, I have tried various types. I have worked my way up to this Single Barrel Bourbon which was bottled 12/3/14. I really enjoy it with one ice cube. Mainly because I like it cold.
    My favorites are Angels Envy and Bookers.
    I should mention that I've always drank Chopin Vodka or Kettle One martinis.
    My other choice is Jameson's Irish Whiskey Black. That's new to to me. My husband bought some a couple of weeks ago and we both enjoyed it. He was normally a Scotch drinker, which I despise.