Jack Daniel’s, one of world’s iconic whiskey brands, celebrates it’s 150th anniversary this year. And even though Sydney Australia is a mighty long way from Lynchburg Tennessee, we were very privileged to have Chris Fletcher – Jack Daniel’s Assistant Master Distiller – in town recently to help us raise a glass and celebrate the milestone.
First time in Australia
Kicking of his first ever Australian tour in Sydney, I received an invitation to what was billed as a ‘time travelling whiskey experience’, one that would take us on a ‘journey through 150 years of craft and cocktail culture’. I’m not going to lie. When I first read that description I honestly thought it was just crafty marketing-speak for ‘come along to a rad Jack Daniel’s
tasting hosted by Chris’. Boy was I wrong. Very, very wrong. I’m going to struggle to put this experience into words, but pour yourself a Jack, sit back and I’ll do my best to convey it.
The Jack Daniel’s range
The night started out along the lines of what I had originally expected. Arriving at Hotel Harry we were politely ushered upstairs to an ultra-rustic yet cosy room where tasting glasses lay in wait.
Chris greeted us, filled us in on his background and ran us through the process of what makes Jack Daniel’s, well, Jack Daniel’s – their sugar maple charcoal mellowing process (check the link, there’s some pretty cool videos).
Not only did we get to hear about this process, but we also had the chance to sample their new make spirit (aka white dog) both before and after charcoal mellowing. Having tasted the before and after samples I can attest to the difference it makes. Before mellowing, the new make has got some really pronunced grain notes, a prickly herbaceous quality to it (almost mezcal-like) and let’s be honest, it’s fairly sharp and somewhat astringent. After mellowing though it’s noticeably smoother, has a much rounder profile overall and really pronounced notes and favours of banana and apple. Fascinating stuff.
Following the new make sampling, Chris moved us on to some current expressions from Jack Daniel’s
core range; Gentleman Jack, the classic Old No. 7 and their Single Barrel Select. Last in the lineup was the limited release No. 27 Gold which we’d just taseted when the door swung open to the sight of a rather disheveled looking sleep-walker. That’s right, a stumbling character, mid-dream, dressed head to toe in his pyjamas.
Unbeknownst to me at that stage, but our dishevelled friend was here to actually take us on that time-travelling journey through his memories of years gone by. We blindly obeyed, following him up some stairs whilst he theatrically reminisced about the early 1920s through to the days of prohibition. Before we knew it we’d rounded door number one where he encouraged us to enter, but only after giving a secret password.
We knocked, the door opened a crack. A shady-looking chap asked for the password and we were ushered inside where a bootlegging duo gave us some insight into the life of a booze-runner. We go the run-down on the origins of the Old Fashioned (apparently it used to be considered a breakfast cocktail?!), solved a puzzle using jars scattered throughout the room and then got to enjoy our very own Old No. 7 libation. It wasn’t long though before the door burst open once more and our dreamy friend had us on the move, leading us down a corridor this time to door number two.
Door number two looked remarkably like the first, but we’d travelled a few decades in the process and were greeted by none other than Mr Frank Sinatra.
It was now the 50s, Vegas was the place to be and Frank was chaperoned by a young dame with a heavy New Yorker accent (uncannily similar to that of George Costanza’s mother). Between their entertaining banter Ol’ Blue Eyes had us fix him a drink, just the way he liked it; two ice cubes, two fingers of Old No. 7 and a dash of water. Rumour has it that Frank was such a fan that he’s actually buried with a bottle of Jack.
In our glasses though, we were treated to neat pour of the Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, a premium expression containing barrels that were personally selected by Frank Sinatra Jr. Just as Frank broke into a ditty our dreamer entered once more, the actors froze and we were transported down the hall to room number three. We’d time-travelled a few more decades in the process and rock-n-roll awaited us.
Rock ’n’ Roll
Good old Jack ‘n Cola was the drink of the era and check out the presentation!
Our rocker friends Ziv and Sass welcomed us backstage and got us to come up with the name for their new band. I can’t remember what the winning name ended up being, but one lucky back-stager walked away with a bottle of Old No. 7 for their efforts.
Our time travelling was over for the evening, but not before cocktails and canapés were served back at the bar. The evening ended with each of us being presented with a very special bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select, from a barrel that was personally chosen by Chris Fletcher to suit the Australian palate. I’ve not opened mine yet, but I’m told it’s rich, robust and full of flavour, so I can’t wait!
Here’s to Jack
So, did this live up to the promise of ‘time travelling whiskey experience’ that would take us on a ‘journey through 150 years of craft and cocktail culture’? You’re damn right it did. Each step of this journey I took a brief moment to scout the room and it was impossible to miss the grin on everyone’s face. This was a genuinely fun and memorable tasting experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
A big thanks to Chris for making the effort to come and visit us down here in Oz and also to the Brown Forman and SoundCampaign teams for making it all happen and inviting The Whisky Ledger along for the ride.
This event was also free to the public and was advertised on The Whisky Ledger’s Facebook page
, so if you like the sound of it and would love to be involved in future events, head on over and like our page
to stay in the loop.