Today I was talking to a whiskey ambassador for a relatively well-known brand. He said to me, “You know, we are as American as Coca-Cola and mom’s apple pie.” My response was immediate, if slightly rude, “No, that would be Jack Daniel’s. Non-drinkers couldn’t pick your brand out of a lineup, but everyone knows Jack.” The funniest part about this interaction was that this wounded ambassador had to sheepishly admit that I was right. Jack Daniel’s is the most iconic whiskey in the world and the distinctive bottle, the black and white livery, and Old No. 7 are all things even a lifetime teetotaler can readily identify.
So what makes Jack Daniel’s so different and iconic? First, Jack Daniel’s and its related marques (Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, and Gentleman Jack) are Tennessee whiskeys, not bourbon. While the process is very similar, Tennessee whiskey goes through an additional step called the Lincoln County Process in which the new make spirit is slowly dripped through a thick layer of sugar maple charcoal. This results in a mellowed spirit that doesn’t have the edge that some other whiskeys do, yet it still retains a full, satisfying taste.
Jack Daniel’s has a distinctive flavor all its own. Black licorice is a common descriptor, as well as vanilla, caramel, and oak. Whatever words you choose to describe Jack, it’s a taste that is singular. Try switching up a Jack drinker for a different whiskey, and they’ll immediately notice. Run out of it at a bar or a restaurant, and rest assured: it’s going to be a quiet night. The Jack Daniel’s crowd would sooner leave than drink a lesser whiskey. Jack drinkers are the most loyal fans of any whiskey anywhere, and if they are out on the town, they want to enjoy their favorite dram.
There is an apocryphal story that makes the rounds in the bar world about Jack. The reason Jack Daniel’s is so popular with musicians is that it is the one taste of home that musicians can always find on the road. From Cairo to Moscow to Bangkok, you can always find a bottle of Jack, and no matter how homesick you might be, Jack has a way of transporting you back if only for a few moments. I don’t know if the story is true, but I don’t care because the reality is that you can always find a bottle of Jack Daniel’s wherever you are. Quite frankly, it is one of those authentic tastes of home, at least for me.
I don’t usually rant on this part of Whisked Foodie, but talking about what really makes a whiskey iconic got me thinking. When it comes to American whiskeys or even whiskeys from around the world, Jack is still king.