Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

A regular Four Roses bourbon and a weird single malt from … Jack Daniel’s!

There was a time I truly disliked whisky. This was in the early to mid-1990s, when my brother, cousin and their friends would occupy the living room late at night. The smell of shawarma and garlic sauce filling up the space. They had just come home from the pub and were consuming this comfort food. They would throw Steely Dan on the record player, or Toto, Boz Scaggs, the good old stuff. Take out a bottle and mix it with 7-Up. Popular choices were Four Roses Kentucky Bourbon (with the big bright yellow label) and Ballentine’s Finest. On one night, one of them offered me a sip of naked, undiluted Four Roses. It was a shock to the system for the teenager I still was then. Liquid corn with a bite, is the most clear memory I have of that sip.

Four Roses has since long redeemed itself in my book. The single batch and single barrel bottlings have always been very nice. I once participated in a tasting hosted by writer Hans Offringa, at the Dutch Whisky Festival Noord-Nederland, where even that dreaded yellow label Four Roses was on the menu.

It was then that I realised that this bottle was quite okayish, for what it was (affordable bourbon). For this Something Special Saturday we take a break from Scotch, and taste a single barrel Four Roses from my archive drawer.

The second whisky is truly a weird apparition. An American single malt made by Jack Daniel. The mammoth Tennessee distillery best known for pushing out millions and millions of charcoal filtered whiskey, drunk with great pleasure by Keith Richards and the like. Those guys now made a single malt. Once upon a long time ago I actually visited the distillery. A wonderfully tidy place, where processes are explained to you in great detail. And afterwards of course a drink in the White Rabbit Saloon. Nice memories, but let’s take a look at their American single malt.

Four Roses Single Barrel, bottled at 50 % abv from cask 29-6T

Makeup: From warehouse TS (or is that T5) according to the bottle. Bottled in 2019.

General impressions: An overdose of wood chips and caramel. It is interesting to have it so pure. In bourbon matured Scotch whisky you get the same notes, but much more muted. This is the source material, one could say. More notes of glue, chewing gum (bubbly), a little mint and lots of fudge caramel. A very good balance even though it comes off very narrow and one-dimensional. A good example of do one thing and do it well.
The mouthfeel is very balanced and together as well. It starts soft and coating, despite a decent abv. Then some alcohol hotness does kick in, but then I am ready to swallow anyway. The fudge appears again and makes for a sticky exit. To me this is textbook bourbon. With water there is no real difference, but it does become more woody to taste. Also some extra sweetness breaks loose.

Conclusion: Good, decent bourbon for everyday enjoyment. Despite it being very narrow and a little limited on what it offers, the Four Roses single barrel is clean, balanced and consistent. If that is what you are looking for, this one is perfect.

Score: 83 points
Disclaimer: taken from a self-owned bottle.

Jack Daniel’s American single malt, bottled at 45 % abv

Makeup: The American whiskey was aged in charred white oak barrels and finish in oloroso sherry casks. The bottles were only available in 1 Liter formats, aimed at selected airports. The whiskey is 6 years old, of which the finish was 2 years.

General impressions: Oh, very weird, entering the nose with freshly sawn wood on a sunny day, the wood dust still flying in the air. The sherry then contributes with hints of furniture polish. That’s about it for the aroma’s from the glass. One-dimensional, simple, but pleasant. On the tongue this drink turns more to familiar Tennessee whiskey territory, or bourbon. I have trouble distinguishing how Jack Daniel’s justified for themselves putting the words “single malt” on the label.

The easy answer I expect to find in the mash bill, but in what still was the spirit made? The usual stills, which are nothing else than continuous stills, right? And it even undergoes the same traditional “charcoal mellowing process”. Read more here.

But the term “single malt” might confuse Scotch drinkers. And that makes me think too, what makes a single malt a single malt in the way we immediately think of it? For me, the pot still and batch production are essential to that. That is not to say this American single malt is without merit. The sherry casks were excellent and the liquid is very clean, soft and pleasant to drink. The wood is very dominant everywhere, but when you try hard, you will also find some cinnamon, cherry and meaty influences. In the end, this is quite regular Jack Daniel’s crossdressing as something else.

Conclusion: In essence, you are drinking a very recognizable regular Jack Daniel’s, but to be honest, this one you can also sip from your Glencairn. Don’t put it in the coke straight away. Age and finish made this something more. In January I participated in a tasting at Mark and Kate Watt’s place in Campbeltown. An interesting bottle there was a North British single grain that was finished in a Macallan sherry cask. This JD single malt comes close to that (and that is a compliment). But price-wise, I recommend you buy the Watt Whisky bottle and have a better experience.

Score: 80 points
Disclaimer: taken from a sample shared by a whisky friend.

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