Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

1980's Flashback!
Whenever I hear or read "Jack Daniel's," I typically have a flashback to the 1980's Van Halen music video, "Panama," where the bassist, Michael Anthony, is thumping out some notes on a custom-made bass guitar in the shape and image of a bottle of Jack.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Jack Daniels.  I am thinking if Van Halen drink it, it must be the fast lane to intoxication and to hell with good taste.

Not so!  Ol' No. 7 isn't that bad as I observed in my review (click here).  A pleasant American whiskey that surprisingly has no wicked bite or awful burn on the way down.  In fact, for the price, it is a pleasant whiskey.  Not overly complex and sipping it will not leave you in awe, but hey look at the price buster!  It delivers a nice introduction to American whisky or more specifically Tennessee whiskey.

Tennessee Whiskey
If I had a penny for everytime someone called Jack Daniel's a great 'bourbon' I would be a rich man.  There is not a huge difference in the production methods of Tennessee whiskey and bourbon, but there is a difference you should be aware of, just so that at a party you won't embarrass yourself.

America is home to a number of different types of whiskey, but the most famous is it's bourbon.  To be called bourbon, the whiskey must: (1) be made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn; (2) aged for at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels and; (3) not distilled to an alcohol by volume greater than 80%.  So, technically, bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky, which is the home to many of the great bourbons from the earliest beginnings.

Tennessee whiskey has only two examples: Jack Daniel's and George Dickel.  These distilleries are classified as Tennessee whiskey because they meet the legal definition (yep pardner, there is a law saying what is Tennessee whiskey): (1) must be produced in the state of Tennessee, and; (2) the spirit must be filtered through sugar-maple charcoal.  (There is some debate as to whether or not Jack Daniel's could label their whiskey as 'bourbon' because bourbon can be made anywhere in the US.  Some say they could, by a tight reading of the law, but choose not to do so.  We are not going to get into that debate here.) 

Anyhow, below is a picture by Flickr member, ZosoNomad, of the Jack Daniel's distillery grounds where they burn the sugar-maple wood in order to make the requisite charcoal for filtration of the spirit.  If you tour the distillery, this is always fun to watch.

Double Charcoal Filtration
Gentleman Jack is distinguished from his younger sibling (Ol' No. 7) by production process whereby the spirit is charcoal mellowed twice: once before aging in barrels, and again after aging.

Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
Bananna, oak, and a little strong note of alcohol when sniffed in a brandy snifter or Glencairn glass.  In a tumbler, the nose is much more pleasant and floral.

Sweet entry of corn, vanilla and oak.  Bananna too.

Dries with warming notes of tobacco and spice.  A little too oakey.

General Impressions
I am a little underwhelmed by this whiskey.  It is supposed to be a step up from the standard bottling of Jack Daniel's Old No. 7, but it really lacks anything that sets it apart and worthy of the higher price.

On the positive side, Gentleman Jack is certainly a smooth whiskey that will go down very easily without the need of ice, water or mix of any kind.  In a word, this whiskey is smooth, big time, like a pane of glass.  No sharp or biting flavors.  There are no obvious flaws, other than it is very mainstream, taking no chances.  We are not entering any intersections on a yellow light.  This whiskey is purely mainstreet easy going drinking experience firmly in the proper lane of travel.

Frankly, it is a little boring.  If you are seeking a smooth Tennessee whisky, the standard Jack Daniel's bottling is sufficient.  No need to upgrade to Gentleman Jack.  So, this begs the question:  What does Gentleman Jack offer that is not attained by the Old No. 7?  I suppose it is more flavorful, the flavors last longer once swallowed.  But, again the earth did not move for me.  I keep thinking I should be drinking Jim Beam Black, a bourbon that is in the same price point, but is a stellar bourbon.  Another option would be to spend a bit more money and enjoy another great American whiskey, Maker's Mark.  The makers of Gentleman Jack should study Maker's Mark and try to replicate the complexity of flavors that they have achieved.

Gentleman Jack lacks the flavor complexity of Maker's Mark and Jim Beam Black

If you are a novice whiskey drinker, you will probably enjoy Gentleman Jack immensely because it is so smooth and inoffensive.  For the more seriously whiskey obsessed like me, we require some complexity.  The danger in making a whiskey so smooth is that there is a sacrifice of complexity of flavors.  That is what happened here.  A pleasant Tennessee whiskey that provides a very straight forward delivery of oak, vanilla and sweet corn.  It's ok, but not great.  You have to ask yourself about whether or not you are a novice or a whiskey nut.  It needs to be spiced up.  Maybe for inspiration the blenders at Jack Daniel's should listen to Van Halen's Panama:


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Comfort Food? Hell no! Comfort Scotch and a Cheesy Movie? Hell Yes!

I was in a really foul mood earlier this evening.  I mean really foul.  Bad day at work just bled into the evening.  You see, I work as a lawyer.  I know, you hate 'em.  Me too, like 90% of the time.  'Course, everyone hates them, but everyone wants their kids to be one or a doctor. 

What I do is write contracts, work on documents, give advice, and basically do whatever it takes to get a deal.  Once in a while, a deal goes bad and everybody lawyers up.  I mean even the lawyers.  Finger pointing and well, so much for an honorable profession and all that.  This is when litigators enter the scene and they thrive on adversarial situations.  Me, I don't like the conflict.  I used to deal with it better than I do now.  As I get older, I just want to simplify life, so no litigation for me.  No drawing lines in the sand, grand standing, bullshitting and all the double talk.  I am not moral or more ethical that some other ambulance chaser, I'm just weary of all the bullshit and just call it the way it is.  Anyway, enough said.

I knew that I had to snap myself out of this blackest of moods.  So, I retreated to the basement, collased into my lazy-boy and reached for some comfort:  an over the top, super ridiculous, James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, and my favorite (if I was ever sentenced to a desert island) single malt scotch: Cragganmore 12 years

Cheesy films from the late '60's and early '70's just seem to lift my spirits, no matter how dour I may be.  These movies usually have a sappy soundtrack that just makes me laugh and at the same time kinda provides an atmosphere of familiarity/security (it harkens back to a time when I was a kid and my parents created a protective bubble around me) that is welcome.  I mean just listen to Nancy Sinatra sing "You Only Live Twice" . . . you just gotta laugh!

The wafer light theme music to "You Only Live Twice" is just the beginning.  The absurd plot, with plenty of politically incorrect depictions of women clad in bras and panties fetching James Bond drinks and pouring baths, just demands the viewer to suspend judgment and belief and enjoy the ride!  Follow that with some classic lines: "Kill Bond now!" or how about "Goodbye Mr. Bond" as the maniacal evil doer Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a white Persian cat strokin' bad guy, sentences Bond to death, and you gotta recipe for laughter.

James Bond villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Couple all of the above with an easy-drinking, yet thought provoking single malt, and you have the strong possibility of abandoning that bad mood.  And that's just what happened to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed my extra-cheesy movie, while I sipped a great single malt that is my 'go-to' whenever I am unsure as to what to try.

Well, I am happy to report that my spirits are lifted.  I hadn't had a drink of Cragganmore in a long time but it didn't disappoint!  I loved it when I was a novice scotch nut, and am happy to report that I still do.  A teaspoon of water to a double pour delivers up a classic Speyside malt of honey, heather, smoke and something ethereal that just makes you smile regardless of your situation! 

Just remember, all in moderation, and I am certainly not advocaing drinking alone in the basement to deal with a bad mood . . . although I think that is what I just did.  Hmm, I guess I am about as politically incorrect as Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice delivering the following opening line: click hereOk, maybe that crosses the line of poltically correctness and veers head-on into the oncoming traffic of sexism, racism and through the guard rail and off the cliff into the abyss of bad cinema!  But hey, just try and laugh anyway and appreciate how far Bond films have come since then.

Thanks for dropping in!  Next week, I will review the Tennessee Whiskey, Gentleman Jack.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for images above taken from the film "You Only Live Twice" as they belong to United Artists. I do not own any rights to "You Only Live Twice" which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Jameson Gold Reserve Irish Whiskey

Time for some Irish.  I just felt like it.  Scotch whisky, particularly the aged single malts can be taxing on the brain.  You know you are in the presence of greatness and therefore must make mental notes of the entire tasting experience.  This can be tiring if one is not up to the task. 

Irish whiskey, no matter how old or grand, somehow, makes no demands of you.  To partake in some Irish whiskey is, put simply, a more hedonistic experience.  It's the recess at school time.  It's the summer vacation for the teacher and students or the sabbatical for the professor.  And for us, it's kicking back in your favorite bar with a couple of friends, having a ridiculous conversation about anything.  Irish whiskey is about . . . good times!

Jameson's standard, no-age statement bottling is the best selling Irish whiskey in America.  Pity!  You know why?  Because it is terrible.  Jameson's standard bottling is pretty awful stuff, suitable at best for frat boys determined to do shots after exams in the college social club.  Really, please avoid.  Tastes old, musty and spoiled.

Jameson 12 years is a big step up in quality.  Common enough that you can find it pretty much everywhere, but with a flavor profile that is rather uncommonly good!  Lots of chocolate, hazelnut action mixed with malty notes.  Makes for a nice dram.

Jameson 18 years is the oldest sibling, but not the best.  You're gonna taste Chinese green tea, lemon grass and citrus notes.  Not terrible, but not great.  Matter of fact, not as good as the 12 years. 

And finally, we arrive at the task at hand: evaluating the Jameson Gold Reserve.  Well, what can I tell you?  For starters, this whiskey has no age statement, yet it is priced above the 12 year old and below the 18 year old.  It's not a cheap date.

Browsing the Jameson website you will glean scant more about the age of the whiskies making up Gold Reserve.  The three whiskies making up this blend are described as being of "advanced years" . . .  This is not a problem for me.  I am not hung up on age statements, as they are not necessarily definitive of quality.  A couple of possible reasons why there is no age statement:  (1) the blender has the flexibility to choose whiskies that may vary in age from year to year, yet blended properly achieve the signature flavor profile the blender aims to replicate each year; and (2) it's more cost effective (it gets expensive if you are only using whiskies of a certain age each year).

Nose (undiluted)
Rich, fragrant molasses, almonds and wild flowers.

Palate (undiluted)
Initially buttery followed by a transition to a crisp, fresh body of crunchy peanut brittle, wild honey, English cream and oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Fairly long flavors of mint, Oolong Tea and malt remain.

General Impressions
Excellent Irish whiskey!  Better than the 12 and 18 year olds.  Why?  More complex flavor profile.  The ability of the whiskey to start sweet, transition to a dry, almost crunchy quality is no easy feat.  The master blender is to be applauded for his effort in this regard.  While it shares some flavor similarities with the 12 year old, the Gold Reserve takes those flavors to new heights. 

Price Point
While the price point is high, it is worth the experience.

Peer Review
Compared to other mass produced Irish whiskey bottlings, I would say Jameson Gold Reserve is among the best.  However, the king of Irish whiskies is not dethroned: Redbreast 12 years.


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.