Jack Daniels likes to make it known that they do not create bourbon, they make Tennessee whiskey. But is it actually whiskey? To unravel the mystery of distillation and understand what makes Jack Daniels unique we need to look into whiskey production and then see what Jack Daniels does differently.
Whiskey, in its many forms, is an alcoholic beverage that has been distilled and made from fermented grain mash. The grains can vary but the most common ones are barley, corn, rye and wheat, with different blends leading to different whiskey types. The production of all whiskey involves mashing, fermentation, distillation and ageing but what sets Jack Daniel’s apart is a process called the Lincoln County Process, which is a process all Tennessee whiskey must go through.
To make a bottle of Jack Daniels you begin with mashing. This is where the grains are crushed into a thin powder, mixed with water and heated to release the sugar. Jack Daniels tends to use a mash made from 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye. The high corn content gives it a naturally sweet flavour before anything has happened.
The result is known as a mash which is then cooled. Yeast gets added which begins the Fermentation process. Jack Daniels uses a special strain of yeast that has been used at the distillery for over a century. During the fermentation process, yeast consumes the sugars, which converts them into alcohol and Carbon Dioxide, releasing a liquid called wash. This liquid contains alcohol and various flavours, which sets the foundation for the Whiskey’s character.
After this process, you begin the second process which is Distillation. This is believed to be the heart of whiskey-making, responsible for concentrating the alcohol and purifying the flavours. The wash is heated in a special apparatus called a still, which separates the alcohol from the water and impurities. Jack Daniel’s uses a continuous still, this allows for continuous distillation and helps make a smooth and mild spirit. As the liquid gets hotter, the alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, this allows distillers to capture the alcohol and leave out impurities.
Whiskey is usually distilled twice, although the Master Distiller may choose to do an extra one, Scotch Whisky tends to have a third distillation. The first distillation, known as the wash distillation, results in a liquid with low alcohol content known as low wine. The second distillation called spirit distillation, concentrates the alcohol even more and helps refine the flavours.
After the distillation process, the whiskey is placed in oak barrels for ageing. The barrel is very important in creating the whiskey’s character. The Distiller chooses the barrel, chars the interior and then decides how long to age the whiskey, this has a massive impact on the whiskey’s characteristics. The wood interacts with the liquid, creating different flavours, colours and complexities in the final product. Jack Daniels, like many American Whiskey uses new, charred oak barrels for aging.
What sets Jack Daniels apart from other whiskeys is the Lincoln County Process, a very unique step in its production. This happens before ageing and involves filtering the liquid through sugar maple charcoal, which is packed into large vats. The charcoal-mellowing step creates a distinct smoothness and a slightly sweeter character to the whiskey.
The Lincoln County Process not only influences the flavour but is also a legal requirement that must be met by all Tennessee whiskey. Some opinions believe this process plays a very significant role in shaping the final flavour of Jack Daniels Whiskey.
After the ageing process has finished, the whiskey is typically diluted with water to reach the desired bottling strength. This allows the distillery to be able to control the alcohol content of the final product. Many Whiskey enthusiasts finally get to enjoy the outcome, they can enjoy the complex flavours and aromas that many people have slaved over and developed during the distillation and ageing process. Jack Daniels is usually 40% alcohol (80 proof), although they do offer many different expressions with different proofs.
In conclusion, Jack Daniels certainly is a whiskey, and in fact, it stands out as a unique whisky due to the charcoal mellowing process known as the Lincoln County Process that all Tennessee whiskey must complete. As it still goes through distillation, ageing in charred oak barrels, and the choice of grains all play very big roles in shaping the whiskey’s character, it’s the combination of these elements and the signature filtration through sugar maple charcoal that make Jack Daniels a loved and very popular brand around the world. Each step in the whiskey-making process is vital and contributes to its unique flavour and distinguishes it within the world of distilled spirits.
Author: Oliver has worked at a whisky and cigar shop for over four years. When he first started, he didn’t enjoy whisky at all. However, he has since learned how to sample a dram to taste its full potential and has never looked back. He has dedicated many hours a day to learning more about whisky and is now sharing his findings with you. His favourite whisky is the Tomatin 14-Year-Old Port Cask.