Friday, October 5, 2012
Jack Daniel's And Jim Beam Pile Onto The White Whiskey Bandwagon.
Micro-producers created the white whiskey category a few years back, ostensibly as a way to generate revenue while their whiskey aged. Mixologists praised its bold, spicy character as a great cocktail ingredient and its clear appearance appealed to people for whom vodka is the quintessential cocktail base.
An informal survey of whiskey enthusiasts showed that while most find white whiskey interesting, few actually drink it regularly. No one reported buying a second bottle.
Although white whiskey must, by law, have some minimal contact with wood to be called 'whiskey,' it can be as little as five minutes, too brief for the wood to have any effect on flavor or appearance. Unlike Europe and most of the rest of the world, the U.S. has no minimum aging requirement for whiskey. It just says the spirit must be 'stored in oak barrels' in order to be called whiskey. It doesn't say for how long.
The rap on white whiskey has been that it's simply white dog, whiskey distillate straight from the still, too hot and harsh to be truly enjoyable, especially neat or on-the-rocks, the way most whiskey enthusiasts drink. This has continued to be true despite the sometimes hyperbolic claims of the micro-producers for whom it is bread and butter.
Although both products are bottled at a mild 40% ABV, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's are approaching the subject differently, from the micros and from each other.
Beam's product is called Jacob's Ghost, after 18th century family patriarch Jacob Beam. It is standard Jim Beam bourbon, aged one year, then heavily filtered to remove the color and harsher flavors. The result is a product that is still pretty raw, but much milder than white dog, with significant amounts of corn body and barrel sweetness. It is scheduled to be released in January.
Beam calls its product white whiskey, Daniel's does not. Because it's not whiskey.
As the press materials say repeatedly, new Jack Daniel's Unaged Tennessee Rye is the first new grain bill used at Jack Daniel's since Prohibition. "While many rye products only contain the required 51 percent rye in their grain bill, Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye consists of a grain combination of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley."
Notice the use of the term 'rye products,' not 'rye whiskeys.'
Take a close look at the label. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Rye is not whiskey, it's neutral spirit.
In other words, it's Jack Daniel's vodka.
Daniel's doesn't talk about any of this in the press materials.
Jack Daniel's Tennessee Rye actually tastes quite a bit like Jacob's Ghost, and very unlike the typical micro-producer white whiskey or any vodka I've ever had.
From the taste, it's hard to believe it meets the legal definition of neutral spirit. It tastes like a mild whiskey white dog.
Jack Daniel's Master Distiller Jeff Arnett, in his tasting notes, talks the way you would about an unaged rye whiskey. He describes it as more fruity than spicy, and he's right about that. They also as much as say it was already in barrels when they decided it was so good they should sell it white. That sounds like a fairy tale anyway, but is incompatible with the neutral spirit classification.
You see, the terms 'neutral spirit' and 'whiskey' are mutually exclusive. A product can't be both. You also can't put neutral spirit into a barrel and someday harvest whiskey, although they imply that's what they're doing with the phrase, "it's just a taste of what's to come."
I imagine people will be talking about it as "Jack Daniel's moonshine," but it's actually Jack Daniel's vodka, and that's just bizarre.
Both products are far more drinkable than a typical micro-producer 'white whiskey.' The Daniel's rye is spicier and drier than the Beam product. Still, you have to have at least some affection for white dog to drink either, because that's still how they taste.
Everything Arnett says about the product is consistent with how it tastes, but not with how it's labeled. That's the mystery.