Jack Daniel's is the top selling American whiskey in the world. With such massive success, it would be easy to rest on their laurels, continue to pump out the same juice that has made them king of the hill, and watch the profits roll in. That's why it was so surprising when a sample of Jack Daniel's newest product crossed our desks. And more surprising still, this new release is an unaged rye.*
Apparently JD's is interested in bringing a rye whiskey to market, so they've tinkered with a new mashbill for the first time since Prohibition, using 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley to create a Jack Daniel's Rye we'll see sometime down the line. But the results coming off the still—before aging—were so good that they decided to release a limited quantity of that juice straight to the public. It's a pretty gutsy move, and I'm not sure whether it's a response to the explosion in craft distilleries offering their white dogs to the public, or whether they want to build visibility for the eventual release of their aged rye. Either way, it's an interesting signal that white whiskey is being taken seriously all the way up to the board rooms of an industry leader. But all the speculation aside, the juice is what matters most.
The aroma if this unaged spirit is surprisingly sweet. There are loads of fresh fruit notes—banana, raspberry, cherry—and sweet honeyed grain. It's hard to spot the rye spice or the jagged edge that I've come to expect from other unaged whiskey offerings. Once you take a swig, it starts to skew a bit more dry, with the rye beginning to assert itself. But it's not the flavor profile you expect from an aged rye whiskey, rather, it's a grassy bite with a bit of spicy hay. The finish is scarily smooth, with a pleasant lingering of warmth and just enough alcohol to finish and carry off the spirit.
It's easily the best white whiskey I've tried in quite some time, and a tremendously exciting offering from a company that isn't forced to innovate. Upon reflection, the style fits perfectly with their existing range—Jack Daniel's is pretty much as sweet and smooth as you can get in the whiskey world, and this unaged rye fits right into that pocket.
However, the pricing is where things start to fall apart. When it rolls out to retail in early 2013, it's expect to cost around $50 a bottle—right up there with premium aged whiskey offerings. This stuff is a collector's item to be sure—the majority of the juice is getting put down in barrels to one day become Jack Daniel's Rye. For my money, I'd wait until the actual rye whiskey is released and give that a go, but if you want a smooth sip of history, this unaged rye is the only game in town.
*There's been quite a bit of debate over the correct labeling of this product—whether it can be called an unaged rye / unaged whiskey, or whether it is a neutral spirit as the TTB has ruled. Chuck Cowdery has the in-depth coverage here if you're into the nitty gritty details.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Sample provided for review consideration.