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.


  1. Good review. I find that the best Jack is the classic Jack. The single barrel is strong as hell, and this not good enough for the price.

    Still i prefer Jim Beam black.

  2. A couple technicalities - JD is technically still a Bourbon. The charcoal mellowing is the step that makes it a Tenessee whiskey but as yet the powers that be (the TTB) have not decided that process is indeed an additive, in which case it could no longer be called a Bourbon.

    I have seen all this argued to death in a 100 post thread on Chowhound, but the final word was that JD COULD by law call itself a Bourbon - but chooses not to, as Tennessee whiskey is distinguished by the charcoal mellowing (not filtering).

    Scott T

  3. Thanks Scott for your astute observation. Yes, there is quite a debate on those points, which I did not wade into. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. Pipp, I totally agree that the Jack Daniel's Single Barrel is simply too strong. Mind you, taste will vary from barrel to barrel, so it is possible that others are better than what you and I have tried.

  5. Never tried the Gentleman Jack myself...partly because where i am from, Northern Illinois, Gentleman Jack runs usually past $30, whereas the greatly superior Jim Beam Black (which I dig as well, and which was practically what got me into whisky in General...) can be bought for a tad over $20. Suffice to say, I've never felt curious enough to tackle the G-Jack.

  6. I personally prefer by a wide margin Dickel to Daniels and Elijah Craig 12 yr old to Jim Beam black, all within the same price range. I have done side-by-side blind comparisons and found them quite a bit more flavorful and interesting.

    Scott T

  7. I hear Dickel is superior to Daniels, though I have not tried it. As for Elijah Craig, again, great reputation, but I have not had it either.

  8. Personally, I see Jack Daniels as pretty similar to Jameson's or Crown Royal. Not in taste, but in position. They're often held up as exemplars of their nation's whisky, and while decent and without major flaws, there isn't a lot of *there* there. They've got the cachet, they're widely available, but they just seem to either be a price point above their quality, or a quality-level below their price point.

    Ah, the wonders of marketing.

    Odd then that perhaps the most-marketed, available scotch seems to escape this... Each Johnnie Walker expression seems to be right where it ought to be in quality relative to other blends at their respective price point.

    Enough meta-whisky rambling. My pick for a bourbon or other American whisky at this price point would either be Wild Turkey 101, or Evan Williams Single Barrel. WT has that wonderful spicy rye, the leather and sandalwood; EWSB is 'simply' a very solid, prototypical 9yo bourbon with extra fun potential from matching it's vintage dating to events in world or personal history.

  9. Bitter Fig,

    Great observations! Particularly about the Johnnie Walker line up. Diageo (the multinational drinks company that owns the brand) are marketing geniuses. Their packaging is excellent as well as the products. However, the greatest brilliance of their marketing (in my opinion) is duping the public into paying outrageous prices for a non-age statement, blended scotch: Blue Label. Meanwhile, Green Lablel is priced at about a third of the price of Blue label, yet is better. Ahh, the tricks of marketing!


  10. Here's hoping this doesn't find me lacking in some profound way, but I am completely ambivalent about American whiskey. Don't touch the stuff. I'll stick to scotch, thank you very much.

  11. Eh Dryheat, while I don't agree, I do understand where you are coming from. Many American whiskies are rather bland and inoffensive and therefore quite boring. And! When you compare it to scotch whisky, well, American whisky appears to be about as interesting as watching paint dry on a barnyard door. This would be a mistake.

    There are American whiskies with great complexity of flavor and therefore quite interesting that will impress you. Examples: Wild Turkey 101, Maker's Mark, Eagle Rare, Knob Creek and Jim Beam Black. These whiskies do taste quite different from scotch, but give them a whirl and you may form an opinion that is anything but ambivalent!

    Thanks for commenting.


  12. An eloquent defense sir. Let's toast with a dram of Cragganmore 12!

  13. First of all, great review - well done. I agree with pretty much everything you said, and certainly don't think it's worth the extra money over a standard Jack. I also agree with Anonymous in the Elijah Craig is far better - I had it a couple of months ago and absolutely Loved it. I don't suppose you plan to review it any time soon? It would be interesting to see what you have to say about it. :)

  14. Hello Kenneth!

    I would like to review a bottle of the highly regarded Elijah Craig. My challenge is to locate a bottle. Where I live it is not available. However, I will be in New Hampshire this summer and should be able to find it down there.


  15. I would definitely consider this one to recommend to a friend who is new to whiskey drinking. Like you said though, for the rest of us, it doesn't necessarily offer anything new. Great review - wish I'd read it earlier!

  16. I enjoyed ROUNDED GENTLEMAN Bottle. Bought FLASK GENTALMAN not long after replaced the rounded. i did not like it. Maybe a rare Batch or over aged cask? I did not try again.

    Gentleman smooths out no 7 edges. no extra age? just double mapled.
    simple, not there to show of complexity, very fresh vibrant corn and sour, nice mapled smooth, and your refreshed. just pour on ice.

    this FLASK one i bought had slightly unnecessary oak.
    also for me a strange corn sour taste. i dont have a describing note at all. not like fresh.
    maybe it when slighty toasty. im loss.

    I have read tennesse whisky does not overage well. i think that what i read.

  17. You are correct that Tennessee whisky and indeed bourbon require less aging time than say scotch whisky. You can have a great bourbon in 8yrs, at it's height, think Jim Beam Black, whereas 8yrs is the very youngest to bottle a single malt.

    Knob Creek is a 9yr old bourbon, that is aging for a long time for bourbon. Key to aging is good wood management. Good quality wood, and knowing when to move from one cask to another.


  18. I read your review and the comments. Man, I am new to this but how very informative! I had purchased a half gallon of the Gentleman Jack from Costco (the price seemed right?) and have yet to open it. I have recently only begun drinking whiskey straight and figured "It's probably better than Old No. 7" Thanks for the review. At least Costco has a great return policy...if not perhaps I could mix it with Coca Cola Classic?

    I have a question about aging. Is there any benefit to keeping booze in the bottle on your shelf or in the cabinet over any length of time? I realize that glass surely wouldn't add any flavor but does the whiskey mellow or anything?

  19. Hi Pacific,

    I would recommend returning the Gentleman Jack and get Jack Daniels Ol No. 7. The key is to take very little sips, like a 1/4 of a teaspoon, hold it for a second or two and then swallow.

    With respect to your question the answer is no. Unlike wine, once whisky is bottled, it no longer improves with age. So, it does not mellow or change, until opened. Once opened it will change a bit because of exposure to air.


  20. As a novice I find Gentleman Jack to be far superior to No. 7. This coming from a dyed in the wool age old No. 7 drinker. Comparing the two to my palate is like comparing the taste of apples to the taste of oranges. I find a substantial difference in taste. Both appeal to my tastes but both completely different in their approach. I shall be drinking more GJ in the future.

  21. I respectfully disagree with your comment about returning it for No. 7. As a long time drinker of No. 7 I personally find GJ to be far superior. So much so that I don't feel the two can be compared. A bit like comparing the taste of apples to the taste of oranges IMHO. Thank you.