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Mar 3, 2010 05:30 PM

Is Jack Daniels Bourbon?

There is a running debate among friends on this. I say no, it must be made in KY in addition to being 51% (or more) corn mash. Someone else says it does not have to be made in KY; it's just about the % of corn mash.

Maybe it is my KY roots that makes me stick to my guns, but I still say no, there is no such thing as Tennessee bourbon. So, those of you down there in bluegrass country can school me good on this important topic. Thanks for your help and bottoms up!

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  1. This topic is well covered in another thread with 88 replies.

    (Search is your friend.)

    1. Here is a quick answer so you don't have to read the 88 posts. There are arguments on both sides, but they don't have to do with geography. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US.

      The thing that distinguishes Tennessee Whiskey from Bourbon is something called the Lincoln County Process, which involves filtering the whiskey through sugar-maple charcoal. Some argue that this makes it a distinct category apart from Bourbon and the US Treasury Department has recognized its unique status.

      Others say it is essentially Bourbon and the Lincoln County Process is a distinction without a difference. And in fact, Tennessee Whiskey does fit the legal definition of Bourbon.

      In the end, pretty much everyone is happy treating Tennessee Whiskey as a unique category. Jack Daniels likes to portray itself as unique and Jim Beam likes to call itself the best selling Bourbon, which it can do if JD isn't a Bourbon.

      3 Replies
      1. re: sku


        Wow, the 88 post thread is mind-melting in terms of the mis-information and side-topics.

        To put a finer point on it, the Bourbon folks would say that the Lincoln County Process violates the bourbon rule prohibiting additives or colloquially "flavor enhancement," as charcoal mellowing over a very long period of time is very different than charcoal filtering. Almost everything that spends any time in charred barrels is filtered in some way or another and allowed for Bourbon, but mellowing is a different process and seen as a disqualification.

        What's fascinating is that there really isn't an arguement here. Jack Daniel's doesn't claim to be a Bourbon, or even hint at it, and Bourbon producers don't accuse them of it. It is just a debate born from years of bars not really caring about details and knowing that for the most part, customers didn't either.

        1. re: ellaystingray

          Great point as to there not being and argument ellaystingray. The industry (meaning the distillers) doesn't care a lick about this issue and considers it settled. It's really just an academic argument among Bourbon geeks.

          1. re: sku

            it's not even an argument among bourbon geeks, who presumably would know better. anyone with the knowledge and understanding in your and ellaystingray's post (a total of perhaps 3 key points) knows the difference, and wouldn't waste time debating it.

      2. Basically the lengthy discussion here is screwed because of semantics.
        You first of all have to concretise.

        Lets try, to ask a more concrete question:
        Could Jack Daniel's be considered as a bourbon?
        Yes - it could. All necessary procedures and standards are met, which would classify Jack Daniel's [or George Dickel] as Straight Bourbon Whiskeys.
        The difference is the regional denomination. If you have a product, which comes from a small distinctive area - off course you are using the small and exclusive denomination and not a bigger one.
        It is true, that JD and GD are both filtered through sugar maple charcoal. This is pretty unique - but if another bourbon producer would decide, to do the same, he could [Heavenhill filter some of their bourbons through charcoal - but it is not sugar maple - as well as some other producers].

        In menus, it is off course not completely right, to list it under bourbons. But then [with all the new products like straight ryes, wheat whiskeys etc it makes sense to leave the bourbon header completely and use US whiskey or US Straight Whiskey]. But it is also not completely wrong... it depends on your pragmatism.