There are only two distilleries that make whiskey in Tennessee, Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel. Both make a variety of whiskies.
The most widely available and popular Tennessee whiskey in the United States is Jack Daniel’s Number 7. Nobody knows why it’s #7, not even the folks at the distillery.
Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey.
Most of the difference is due to the water and the length of the ageing process. Both start with a sour mash. Bourbon must be aged at least two years. Tennessee whiskey must be made in Tennessee and charcoal filtered.
How is Tennessee Whiskey Made?
It must be made from a sour mash and goes through a charcoal filter between the still and barrel.
Past those very loose requirements, there just aren’t any requirement. Unlike Bourbon, there is no requirement that Tennessee whiskey be made from any particular mash, nor how long it must be aged, what kind of barrels can be used, or even if the barrels must be either new or charred.
How Old is Tennessee Whiskey?
There’s just no way to know. Few bottles specify the age. The one exception is George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow brand which is labeled as 3 years old and George Dickel Special Barrel Reserve labeled as 10 year old.
Jack Daniel’s does not say how long it’s been aged. Their web site, in fact, seems to distain one of the most important criteria for judging whiskey – it’s age. That’s truly a shame. How long a whiskey is in the barrel before it goes in the bottle is one of the best indications of quality. Everything else being equal, old is better. The longer it’s aged, the darker color, you can make a guess that the darker the color, the older it is. Not very precise when comparing between brands because the amount of charring and old vs. new barrels plays a big roll.
Even more confusing is the difference, if any, between Jack Daniels with a Black Label or a Green Label. Their website’s faq says, “Jack Daniel’s Green Label is a lighter, less mature whiskey with a lighter color and character. The barrels selected for Green Label tend to be on the lower floors and more toward the center of the warehouse where the whiskey matures more slowly” That would indicate Green Label is inferior to the Black Label and it is a couple of bucks cheaper in my state.
Sample at room temperature in a standard whiskey glass, do not use a shot glass. Shot glasses do not allow the whiskey to breath and should only be used for measuring. The “glass” must not be plastic as that will distort the flavor and aroma.
One quarter ounce is sufficient. Tasting the whiskey “neat” is the best way to judge the quality. You can dilute with water if you prefer; just remember that will alter the taste as will ice. Adding bottled water, particularly distilled water, is a good way to adjust the proof between brands.
Smell the aroma, take a sip and hold it in your mouth before swallowing.
This ain’t wine. Nobody cares about the “nose” or those subtle hints of things that aren’t there. Do you like it or not is the only question.
Top 10 Tennessee Whiskies:
George Dickel Old #12
George Dickel Special Barrel Reserve
Jack Daniels Old #7 Black Label
George Dickel Old #8
George Dickel Cascade Hollow
Jack Daniels Old #7 Green Label
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
Just our opinion. You should sample and decide for yourself. When selecting a whiskey, we consider taste, aroma, and price about equally. While proof can’t be ignored, it counts for little in our ratings.
I would like to supply a little information for your TN Whiskey page. I’m a native Tennessean and have been to both distilleries too many times; one of the things I used to do for visitors is to take them to both. George Dickel is smaller of course, but very proud of their product. I, like you, much prefer it over Jack. I’ll tend to reach for the Barrel Select first though. It’s cold filtered through the charcoal of course but on top are virgin wool blankets. (only used once) I don’t remember the temperture but it’s low enough to thicken the fats in the whiskey, which are greatly reduced at the blanket. While it’s a big deal now in Scotch and Bourbons for non-chill filtered or no filtering, if you want smooth, this is your avenue. Dickel ‘Barrel Select’ is the smoothest (Relative term of course) you will find.
Tennessee Whiskey must be aged 48 months in the charred oak to be called aged whiskey and not have to specify an age. Anything less must state so – thus the Dickel 3 Year. Jack Old number 7 used to be 7 years old, no longer, it’s 48 months and a day before it’s bottled. This will vary by a couple of days of course.
My cousin was employed there for about 6 years, according to him “Back in the day, Green label was the 48 month, Black label 7 years; as Jack Daniel Brand changed ownership repeatedly production overruled quality. You see the results today, both are 48 month whiskeys, the green from “unworked” barrels that come from cooler spots in cooler warehouses. Black Label from the better worked Barrels. If you’ve ever been to Lynchburg you can probably tell the “HOT” houses on the hilltops. It’s a crying shame, I used to love Jack. Still have a true Square 90 Proof ‘Pint” bottle I bought in college in 1976. If Jack and I hadn’t fought so much in college it would not have lasted. We still don’t get along today, haven’t bought a bottle since graduation.
Caveat: A habit I picked up on my bonus tour to Korea in the late 80s was Old Grand Dad Bonded Bourbon. It was less that $8 a bottle. Un- believeable, and still a habit I have today. Still have the last bottle I bought there; sits on the top shelf of my liquor cabinet untouched. When I walk by and see it I still get the cold chills up my back of the Korean Hawk (Wind). The memories a good bottle will bring back, open or not.