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Bourbon vs. Tennessee whiskey

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Since we've raised the bourbon issue already, I'd like to see what other hounds think about a pet peeve of mine: Tennessee Whiskey. While bourbon has to be made to rather strict specifications--at least 3 years of aging in new charred oak barrels, at least 50% corn, but not more than 75% corn (except when produced and bottled by the actual distiller)--I don't believe there are any specifications for Tennessee whiskeys. And to me, Jack Daniels is over-rated, over-hyped, and over-priced. Does anyone agree?

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  1. w
    whiskey person

    No, it's just fine as a sipping whiskey.

    1. No, this girl can't agree with any of those choices (over-rated, over-hyped, over-priced). I find it smooth and satisfying, and the cost is reasonable when compared to other big-name distilled spirits (or especially to wine, considering the price per serving).

      2 Replies
      1. re: Suzanne

        I find it being "the only" non-bourbon American whiskey used in every restaurant I dine in. It has exterminated the modest priced "rail" offerings completely. It is premium priced at 43USD/1.75L next to a local I prefer at $13. My choice avoids the oak sting and takes a small hit in the fruit bouquet which I cancel with a bit of any local ($17) triple-sec. I drink this on the rocks as it stores extremely well and gets as sweet as you like without any coke at all. Drink as you wish. Baltimore, MD and Ohio put out some very fine offerings of many different beverage lines that don't advertise or need to. It doesn't have to be Jack Black single barrel and Grand Marnier.

        1. re: Suzanne

          After I had a few "Top shelf margaritas" at Tuesdays and Fridays 2004-2007, I explored the kinds of spirits and settled on a margarita mix, tipple-sec, tequila and a whiskey. I found a few of the local offerings made in Baltimore and Ohio OK at a fraction of the price. I now usually drink American blended whiskey sweetened with some triple-sec because it is easy to fix and stores really well. Beer, soda and fruity liqueurs spoil on the shelf over time. It doesn't have to be Jack Black and Grand Mariner.

        2. According to the Regans' book (The Book of Bourbon and other Fine American Whiskeys), Tennessee whiskey must conform to the same regulations as Bourbon, except that corn need not be the predominant grain, although they say all today's Tennessee whiskeys are predominantly corn.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            I should know that I can count on you and other hounds for the facts. I guess I figured it was like Kentucky whiskey, which does not have to meet bourbon standards. I still don't much like the Jack Daniel's taste--too much smooth, not enough bite for my palate. Thanks again for the info.

            1. re: e.d.

              I'm not familiar with Kentucky whiskey.

              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                Early Times is the one that is most common. There may be others.

          2. f
            Fred and Wilma

            A few adjustments: -
            51% for the corn in the mashbill.
            And only a 2 year minimum but most get at least four.

            1. While I agree with the opionion expressed below, it's just fine as a sipping whiskey," Jack Daniels has been a tiny pet peeve of many years. There have been many more occasions than not that I have asked for a bourbon and soda the "bourbon" has been Jack Daniels. There will be no other choice, and, ever the pain in the ass, I will have to point out that this is not bourbon. The exchange is inevitable, my evil twin fades, I take the Jack Daniels (because that is what there is) and I like it well enough. But I peeve.

              1. "Since we've raised the bourbon issue already, I'd like to see what other hounds think about a pet peeve of mine: Tennessee Whiskey. While bourbon has to be made to rather strict specifications--at least 3 years of aging in new charred oak barrels, at least 50% corn, but not more than 75% corn (except when produced and bottled by the actual distiller)--I don't believe there are any specifications for Tennessee whiskeys. And to me, Jack Daniels is over-rated, over-hyped, and over-priced. Does anyone agree?"

                Okay, let's back up. The 1964 law which codified the making of bourbon requires that in be at least 51% corn (not 50%), and there is no upper limit (though over 80% it can also become 'corn whiskey' if aged in used or uncharred barrels -- bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels). Also, bourbon is bourbon from the time it is made, but it must age at least two years to be called 'straight' and four years to avoid requiring an age statement on the label. It must not come off the still at higher than 160 proof, nor go into the barrel at higher than 125 proof.
                It is correct that there is no reference in U.S. law to Tennessee Whiskey (though it IS named in international trade agreements), which is a name derived from a letter from a government agency solicited by Jack Daniel's Lem Motlow back in 1941. Until it is dripped through the maple charcoal that makes Tennessee whiskey distinct, it IS bourbon. In fact, some argue that since the charcoal filtration subtracts flavor elements (congeners, fusel oils and esters) from the whiskey instead of adding anything, it still can be called bourbon after undergoing the so-called Lincoln County Process. But since neither Jack Daniel's nor the Kentucky bourbon folks desires that anyway, the current separation between bourbon and JD/George Dickel is fine all around.
                I have absolutely no problem with anybody liking whatever whiskey strikes his/her fancy. So, if you like Jack, fine. But, understand please, that at 4-6 years old it is very expensive, ordinary whiskey. There are more than a few American straight whiskeys (bourbons and ryes) aged twice as long that come in at prices as little as half that of Jack Daniel's. Ironically, one of it's direct price-niche competitors, Maker's Mark, also is a youngish, 6yo bourbon which links its price to JD so that it can benefit from comparison as a 'premium' product.
                I like Jack with Coke just fine, and Maker's is pretty good bourbon. But, I almost never buy either because I can find literally a dozen or more whiskeys I prefer, and at considerably lower prices.

                6 Replies
                1. re: TNbourbon

                  Excuse me, TNBourbon, but could you please post just a few of the whiskey's that are better than Jack for the same price? That would help us all out a lot. Thanks.

                  1. re: chefguy

                    Keeping in mind that "better" ("best") is in the palate of the taster . . .

                    Using the "Beverages, and more!" retail price of $17.99 for a 750ml of Jack Daniels Black (all prices below are for 750ml bottles; retail prices are from "BevMo) . . .

                    Buffalo Trace Bourbon - $20.99
                    Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon - $22.99
                    Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon - $22.99
                    George Dickel #12 Tennessee Whiskey - $20.99
                    Jim Beam 8-Year Old Black Label Bourbon - $16.99
                    Makers Mark Bourbon - $21.99
                    Old Weller 107-proof Antique Bourbon - $20.99

                    I'll leave it to you to decide whether Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon ($9.49 for 750ml) and Ezra Brooks Bourbon ($10.99 for 750ml) should be included.


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Jason: I agree with all of your comment and would add the Beam White label as well. I have heard an apocryphal tale that at JD, they would periodically call on the bottling line for a label shift and without any change to the source, start bottling Green Label after Black, and vice versa. I t was alleged to have come from a former employee, but through a friend of ours, so can't personally vouch. OTOH, I can't really tell a difference between the Black and Green, so maybe it's true. Although DW loves the stuff, I rarely drink it, but I've been accused of having snobbish whiskey tastes and much prefer Pappy or Rock Hill or Blanton's

                      1. re: zin1953

                        I do like Dickel very much and would choose it over JD and MM ...

                        1. re: zin1953

                          hey Jason ... good list ... one thing to add is the my father in law can't drink the white label Evan Williams but does fine with the black label ... headache ... or maybe it is just me :). Heaven Hill is who distributes Evan and now have the Old Fitzgerald brand ... they also have a new one that is called the TryBox series ... basically white lightning ... oh, we also can look for bargains here in TN and get Evan for about $19

                      2. re: TNbourbon

                        Dang, you really know your stuff! Currently working on a article on bourbon and wading through all this research. Should have read you first.

                        CA Scotch Chick

                      3. Here's a "bottom line" thought that people might actually find useful... it's just my own impressions...

                        "Bourbon" from Kentucky tends to have a more "caramelly" and often 'sweeter" taste...

                        "Tennessee Whisky", like JD and Geo. Dickel, tend to be a bit "drier" in taste... honestly more like listerine.

                        What I find is that drinking these straight I usually opt for a "sweeter bourbon", but when using them in a cocktail mix, which often involves a sweet component, I find that the sweet component (coke or collins mix or sweet vermouth or whatever), tends to bring out dimensions of a dry whisky the same way that sugar brings out the flavor of chocolate or coffee (both of which are extremely dry).

                        And often, if you mix a sweet whisky drink like bourbon and coke, using a sweet bourbon just results in TOO SWEET, vs. using JD which mixes a great b&c.

                        Does the tennessee "dryness" come from charcoal filtering ? not sure, it might.... perhaps more of an experienced poster can speak to this....

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Chicago Mike

                          now see, i always wondered why people would pay a premium for Jack...then hide it behind coke. learn something every day.

                        2. Yes. Jack is WAYYYYYYYY overrated. Kerosene at best.
                          But the label lends itself to black tshirts so readily that you know it's gonna be a idiot fave.
                          Ezra Brooks 90 proof (Eazy 90) is smoother evn though it's higher in %. Even the cheap bourbon Heaven Hill white label (better than the gold label) is smoother than blackjack.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: seawolf

                            Ever have Jack Daniels' GREEN label?

                          2. The difference between Tennessee Whiskey and bourbon is that Jack Daniels and other Tennessee Whiskeys are filtered for roughly four days through several feet of charcoal before they are bottled and sold. Most bourbons, but not all, are also filtered but in a much different and less labor intensive manner. Other than that they are very similar.

                            Also Jack is definitely over hyped, priced, and rated. For 2 dollars more Buffalo Trace bourbon is better in every way. And if you really want a treat swing for Woodford Reserve or Blanton's . Perfect.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: uspunx

                              Its not filtering it is "mellowing". Not meant to remove any impurities, rather to impart flavor from the sugar maple.

                              That said IMO Dickel is much better than Jack for about the same money.

                            2. I agree about Jack being overated. I am a big Kentucky Bourbon/Rye lover. I do not like any of the Jack offerings. I happen to really like the Buffalo Trace Antique offerings and the Jim Beam stable of offerings a lot. I cannot say enough good things about Beam. I even like there Rye for mixing in drinks a lot.

                              Fantastic Jim Beam offerings.

                              1) The black label in my humble opinion is one of the better value Bourbons out there. I can get a liter for about $21. This Bourbon is aged for 8 years and is 86 proof. Still it delivers like a more expensive sipping whisky.

                              2) Knob creek - Single barrel reserve - go out and try this. It is the new knob creek bottling and it rocks. It is aged 9 years and 120 proof. Let the ice melt for about 15 minutes and you will be in heavin. Bravo to Beam!!! Vanilla, sweet and nutty.

                              3) Bookers - my favorite (although not by much) of the Beam line is the Bookers. Aged 6-8 years and 121- 127 proof, I like this a hair more than the Knbb Creek SBR because it is a little spicier and less sweet.

                              The "Antique collection" I love them all. They have gotten pricey going from $55 a few years back to the mid 70s. At first, I was drawn to the two aged bottlings (Sazerac and Eagle Rare). But this year, my favorite was the George T. Stagg. Weighing in at over 140 proof, this bourbon is magnificent. I have a bottle of the Weller (uncut unfiltered wheat recipe)but I have not tried it yet. It is all really good.

                              William Larue Weller, 63.3%

                              Sazerac Rye, 18 year old, 45%,

                              George T. Stagg, 71.5%

                              Thomas H. Handy Rye, 63.45%

                              Eagle Rare, 17 year old

                              For every day sipping, I also like the new Makers Mark 46

                              As for Jack, I have tried to like it but just cannot. It is fine in coke but that is it. I don't even care for their more expensive bottlings and they don't make good mixed drinks either (I had a genltemen Jack manhattan once that was almost undrinkable). I have heard that their new Honey Liquere is good but have not tried it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Latinpig

                                I much prefer Craig 12 yr old to Beam Black for the same price, I have compared them side by side and the result was the same as for Dickel vs Daniels, I just found it much more flavorful and interesting.

                                I have tried all the American honey liqueurs and found them all cloying and bland, just skip them and get the real thing - Drambuie.

                                I rarely drink any Bourbon on the rocks but I do find the Weller Antique 107 proof to be excellent that way - it's a little harsh neat but has a strong flavor that holds up well to some ice

                              2. By the way, there are restrictions for a true Tennessee whiskey. It must be made in the US, it must be contain at least 51% corn, aged in oak barrels and be charcoal filtered. There are only 3 in TN that does this, Jack Daniels, Dickel and Collier and McKeel. Not all Bourbons are TN whiskey and not TN whiskeys are bourbon.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Curedcuisine

                                  You can also add Prichard's Tennessee whiskey to the list, IMHO the best Tennessee whiskey of the bunch that are charcoal "mellowed", not filtered. I think the charcoal mellowing is called the Lincoln County process, proprietary to Tennessee whiskey in general. Interesting that Prichard's, Dickel and JD are made in close proximity to each other in lower Middle Tennessee...must be the especially pure water from those limestone springs down there.

                                  1. re: marais

                                    If you're a fan of TN products, look into the new Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Straight Bourbon. The source is very likely Prichard's.


                                2. Whiskeys follow traditions. The recipes include the water source, aging, filtering and mellowing methods. Flavors can be added and blended but not really removed. When not mixing with sweets like soda, the flavor really counts and the opinion of taste is individual. That's why there are so many bottles on the shelves. When I drink whiskies, it's straight up, on the rocks, or just a splash of my best water. (Uncle hated every last bit of chlorine). So I mostly avoid the biting flavors of most of the freshly charred, new oak barrels used in Bourbon, and the peats in Scotch and anything else they think to pollute the pure distilled product with. Sadly, I've never had anything at more than 100 proof that didn't have a nasty flavor like it was either too soon drawn off the still or needed to breathe more. I.E. 750ml of A. Hardy V.S.O.P. Fine Champagne Cognac is as expensive as 1.75L of Hardy 'Red Corner' V.S Cognac. I just didn't appreciate what it was. I actually preferred the latter and went back to it. I had to recap the bottle of V.S.O.P. for a few months to calm down to where I would drink it. So, since I figured out what flavor I do like. I see no reason to pay more for someone to just mess with me. So, my Canadian is Crown; my vodka is Van Gough, Platinum or Ivannabitch, not Smirnoff or Trump. And if I'm not out where I have to settle for "Jack Black", I actually drink a local Store's Name on Blended Whiskey bottled near here in Atlantic Distilling Co. in Baltimore, MD.
                                  I don't need all the bottled fruit, anyway. The drink keeps better without it. Most spirits mellow with time. But most fruit and cream drinks spoil in less than a year. If anyone can find an acceptable legal example of "Uncle Jesse's finest" within 50 miles of Washington, D.C. I'll try that, too. Sadly, they dump fruit and water into it trying to create a flavored product as nasty as scotch that is already cut down to under 100 proof. I can buy three brands of "pure grain alcohol" over 190 proof. They are all extremely nasty and don't mix well at all. A taste stronger than Smirnoff instead of Van Gough Vodkas. All opinions I ever found also found them nastier than the grain neutral spirits other bottled beverages must have been made from. If you are ever near Clinton, MD. Visit this place and pick up a fifth of this. If only to save on Jack in cooking. The fruit hint is noticeably different. But very acceptable as long as the 1.75L remains less expensive than a 750ml of Jack Daniels. P.S. Don't ever waste your money on the Blue or Green labels. They're much worse than the very small discount in price.

                                  1. Old Forester "Signature" is the best bourbon out there, regardless of price!

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: chartist

                                      In your opinion, of course . . .

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        Actually Zin, it is a known fact. Surprised you haven't heard.

                                        1. re: ncyankee101

                                          Thanks ncyankee. Good to hear from another person with exquisite tastes.

                                      2. re: chartist

                                        You must really love Old Forester if you registered for chowhound and dug up this 10-year-old thread just to let us know! welcome aboard!

                                        So what other Bourbons or other spirits do you like?

                                        1. re: ac106

                                          Thanks. I do think that Old Forester Signature is the best
                                          I've also tried Knob Creek, George Dickle, Buffalo Trace and others.....all good but, for me, Old Forester beats them all. You might get a prettier bottle, but you won't get a better bourbon!

                                        2. re: chartist

                                          Ok so I bit and picked up a bottle of the Old Forester signature today - and I have to say, based on my first impression of a freshly-opened bottle - this might be the worst Bourbon I have ever had. Nearly undrinkable.

                                          I checked the LA Whiskey society's website (after tasting it), and saw that Sku had given a very mediocre review to this one - C+ - and a terrible D+ rating to the OF Birthday Bourbon, which used to get very good ratings but in the last 3 years seems to have gone downhill. The same seems to go for the 100 proof Signature vs the older Bonded OF.

                                          I noted the same sour, very bitter finish (which lasts forever) in this one that Sku noted in the 2013 Birthday Bourbon, as well as the menthol/mint he described in the signature. Also tastes very over-oaked, and not in a good way - I like very woody Bourbons such as Elijah Craig 18 yr, the wood in this is harsh and unpleasant.

                                          I really hope this improves after having been open for a while, but I don't hold out much hope as I have never encountered these kind of off flavors before.

                                        3. As my preference is for a whiskey with no forward sweetness, I don't much care for bourbon all by itself. There are some cocktails that require it (juleps, of course!), but if I'm having a whiskey-with-a-splash my first choice is Scotch or Irish, second choice (though sometimes first) a good rye, then JD or some other Tennessee. I do consider Gentleman Jack to be as satisfying to sip as most ryes, but unless I'm offered it at someone's house I'd rather not pay the freight.