By Richard Thomas
A few years ago, the folks in Lynchburg, Tennessee decided to do a special release of their relatively new rye whiskey (after a series of teaser releases, the flagship JD Rye came out in 2017) by taking it cask strength and single barrel. That was apparently well enough received that its now a permanent fixture: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Rye is in regular release. The word broke just one week ago, and now I’m sitting down with the sample.
The thing here is that this isn’t just a single barrel or a cask strength. My sample comes in at 137.3 proof (68.85% ABV), so it’s pushing the unofficial line of 140 proof for “Hazmat” status. It is said the proof for this line is expected to sit in the 125 to 145 range, so some individual barrels will yield Hazmats.
No age statement accompanies the bottling. Jack Daniel’s rye uses a 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% barley malt mash bill. That places it in the style of Maryland ryes, which followed a recipe mix similar to the typical bourbon: use about 70-something percent of your lead grain, enough of a secondary, flavoring grain to notice it, and a generous helping of barley malt for the enzymes. This is in contrast to Kentucky rye, which is barely rye whiskey (usually 51 to 53% rye) or Pennsylvania rye (high rye, no corn).
In my thinking, the main virtue of ultra high proof whiskeys is that they are a concentrate; you can dial them down to suit you. Frankly, I’m dubious about the idea that anything over 120 proof is actually better that way. Some such whiskeys are still drinkable at that strength (some most definitely are not), but few are at their best this way. So, in went a couple of splashes of water.
That written, have you ever had a rye cookie? I made some oatmeal raisin cookies once using rye flour, and the scent here reminds me very much of that. The nose leads with cookie spices, dried flower petals and a hint of cooked cereals. The cereal side comes forward on the palate, bringing the whole cookie thing into better balance, while the flowery aroma has turned to a peppermint flavor. It’s also a bit nutty. The finish goes down spicy and a touch dry.
And given how much vapor my pour was kicking up from about two yards away as I let it take in some air, I’m really left wondering how things would have been if I’d given it a try without the generous helping of water…
This extension of Jack Daniel’s single barrel line is supposed to fetch $60, and is really quite fairly priced at that.