As an insistent and vaguely cryptic header on the Jack Daniel's website reads, "It's not bourbon. It's Jack." Seems pretty defensive right out of the gate for a distillery with such a sturdy reputation. The page goes on to decry, "People often refer to Jack Daniel's as bourbon. But it isn't. It's a Tennessee whiskey and it says so right on the bottle." This begs the question of why so many whiskey lovers all seem to be asking this same thing -- and why does the distillery have an entire web page dedicated to making sure fans don't get it twisted?
While the lore surrounding the origin of the "Old No. 7" name itself is murky — some say it was the founder's lucky number, and others contend that it took him seven batches to get his recipe right — the enduring lore around what type of liquor Old No. 7 is remains equally murky. For all this seeming redirection, one thing is certain: Many spirits belong to Jack Daniel's oeuvre, and while Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey might not be bourbon, Old No. 7 is.
The most likely reason why Jack Daniel's isn't marketed as bourbon is because the "Tennessee Whiskey" label is so essential to the brand's image. The distillery produces exclusively in Tennessee, a large part of its successful ideation as an accessible, tough, classic American liquor. "Bourbon," the brand seems to say, just doesn't fit in with Jack Daniel's image ... even if Old No. 7 technically is one.
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Yes...but Don't Call It That
A look at legal classification helps shed some light. Per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, "whisky" is a liquor made from distilled grain that's aged in oak barrels and bottled with at least 40% alcohol content. "Bourbon whisky" is a subcategory that's subjected to strict regulations for craft, quality, and character. According to the authority of the American Bourbon Association, for a spirit to technically qualify as "bourbon," it must be made in America, aged in new charred oak barrels at no more than 125 proof, contain no color or flavor additives, contain at least 51% corn in the mash bill, be at least 80 proof at bottling, and be no stronger than 160 proof at distilling.
Like bourbon, Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 is made in America, contains no additives, is aged in new charred oak barrels, and enters the barrel at 125 proof. But, unlike bourbon, most Jack Daniel's whiskeys enter the barrel at 140 proof -- not Old No. 7. It meets bourbon's 40% ABV requirement, even as other whiskeys in the company's repertoire (such as Jack Daniel's Single Barrel at 47% ABV) do not.
Jack Daniel's isn't bourbon, but not because it would be technically incorrect to call it bourbon or because it doesn't adhere to the federal regulations that determine what bourbon is. Ultimately, it might be the most accurate to say that Old No. 7 is a Tennessee Whiskey that meets every legal requirement to be bourbon and call it a day.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.