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Is Jack Daniel’s Bourbon?

Is Jack Daniel's Bourbon

Is Jack Daniel’s Bourbon? Read on to find out.

Is Jack Daniel's Bourbon

A general view of atmosphere at a party hosted by Jack Daniels and New York Magazine celebrating Jack Daniels’ Sinatra Select at By Robert James Boutique on Feb. 20, 2014 in New York City. Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon? (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for New York Magazine)

Jack Daniel’s is one of the most popular brands of whiskey in the world. However, a frequently asked question among whiskey fans is whether it is a bourbon or a different type of whiskey. All across the internet, from Twitter to Facebook and beyond, arguments rage: Is Jack Daniel’s bourbon? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels. On the other hand, Tennessee whiskey can also be made this way — and similarly must have a mashbill comprising at least 51% corn — but it undergoes an extra step known as the Lincoln County Process. As a result of this process, Tennessee whiskeys have a distinct flavor that sets them apart from other bourbons. However, Jack Daniel’s — and all Tennessee whiskeys — are technically still bourbons.

Brief History of Jack Daniel’s

Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee whiskey that has been around since the 1800s. The brand’s story begins with a boy named Jack who ran away from home and was taken in by Reverend Dan Call. At the Call family farm, Jack learned how to make whiskey from a preacher and an enslaved man named Nathan “Nearest” Green.

Is Jack Daniel's Bourbon

Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel is pictured with Nearest Green’s son, George Green. Jack is in a black vest and white hat, and Green is to his immediate right, in the center of the photo. (Photo: Jack Daniel’s)

When Jack got older, he hired Nearest as the head distiller at the Jack Daniel Distillery. Today, there is a whiskey brand in Nearest’s honor called Uncle Nearest, and the master distiller position is still held by a descendant of Nearest Green. The Jack Daniel’s brand is now owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.

Bourbon Vs. Tennessee Whiskey

All Tennessee whiskey is classified as bourbon, since it is produced from grains that are at least 51% corn—but not all bourbon is Tennessee whiskey. According to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, in order to be considered bourbon, the mashbill is required to be made up of at least 51% corn and the spirit must be aged in charred new oak barrels.

Bourbon can come from any state in the U.S. — although it most commonly comes from Kentucky. Tennessee whiskey must be made in Tennessee, have a mashbill of at least 51% corn and be passed through a charcoal sugar maple filter before going into a new charred oak barrel. This process is referred to as the Lincoln County Process, after the county in which it was invented.

Is Jack Daniel’s Bourbon?

Fundamentally speaking, Jack Daniel’s meets every requisite requirement to be called bourbon. However, there’s always a catch. Just because a whiskey meets the requirements to be referred to as bourbon, there is no law that requires it be labeled as such. Jack Daniel’s is in essence a bourbon but chooses not to label itself as such. It has some extremely powerful and stiff competition in the world of bourbon. Brands like Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace pose a significant competitive force to Jack Daniel’s selling well. All of those are produced in Kentucky and thus can’t be referenced as Tennessee whiskey. This works to Jack Daniel’s advantage. Dropping the bourbon designation (something many folks errantly assume can only be made in Kentucky) gives the impression that Jack Daniels is vastly different from Kentucky bourbons, or bourbon in general, and stands alone in its own category.

It’s a smart play. Bourbon that has been charcoal-filtered can still be called bourbon – just like Dickel is doing with its 8 Year Bourbon expression.

This isn’t to say, of course, that all whiskey made in Tennessee is bourbon. But anything bearing the “Tennessee Whiskey” designation fits the bill. Across every corner of the internet, debate rages regarding Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 and its other whiskey products and whether it is bourbon. The verdict? Absolutely. That said, the same can’t be said of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, but we’ll have more on that later.

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