Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You don't know Jack

Now my favorite whiskey recipe is hands-down a glass with some Jim Beam in it.  But I guess Jack Daniels is ok too.  But Jack with grenadine, triple sec, and orange juice?  Well, it takes all sorts...

I might have to try an Evil Jack some day.

I have a friend who loves to walk into bars and ask for "two fingers... Jack... neat" just because he knows no bartender under the age of 50 has ever heard those words.  Once the girl behind the bar sadly informed him they were out of Tequila.


I would have laughed my ass off if they hadn't been out and he got a tumbler with a shot of tequila and a shot of whiskey, because he would have gotten exactly what he ordered: Two Fingers, Jack, neat.

But back to that link, some of the recipes talk about adding things to ease Jack's bite.  What bite?  I always thought Jack was a little too smooth and sweet, personally.  Sure, I've had sweeter whiskies like Ezra Brooks, and there's whiskey-based liqueurs like Southern Comfort, American Honey, and Red Stag. 

But Jack, well, people put it in the same category as Bourbon.  I was once at a bar and ordered Jim Beam.  When I was given a glass of Jack Daniels instead, I could tell by the flavor and spoke up.  The bartender said "Eh, Jim, Jack... same thing."  I almost flew off the handle, as I was in a pricey establishment and had paid a pretty penny for a moderately clean glass full of not what I asked for.  But that's how a lot of people think.  Many consider Jim and Jack to be interchangeable.  But would they do the same with Crown or Seagram's 7?  Canadian whiskey is pretty close to Bourbon, people don't consider it to be bourbon.  Nor has it ever pretended to be anything other than what it is: it comes in different shaped bottles, totally different style labels and completely different marketing campaigns.  But just look at that bottle of Jack, all square and bourbony and old-timey.  You get the feeling that on the weekends Jack Daniels puts on a fake mustache and asks its wife to call him "Bourbon" in bed.

Jack seems to have always had a chip on their shoulder about the whole bourbon thing.  And in all honesty, if you fed samples into some sort of chemical analyzing computer thingie (I never took Chemistry in college) I'm sure it would say Jack Daniels and Jim Beam are close enough to be categorized as the same substance.  I won't deny that in flavor, Jack is like a smooth, sweetish bourbon.  But taste isn't how bourbon is defined.

The fact of the matter is Jack is not Bourbon because it's made in the wrong place.  It's not a matter of taste, or ingredients, or licensing and trademarks.  I can't call myself a Dane because I wasn't born in Denmark, nor do I live there now.  So I call myself a Yinzer, because I'm from and live in Pittsburgh. 


A lot of booze is that way.  Mezcal can only come from one town, if it's made somewhere in the same county you get to call it Tequila but otherwise it's just cactus juice.  And everyone involved is ok with that arrangement.  Scotch has to come from Scotland, otherwise Sean Connery shows up at your house in the middle of the night and beats you with a blackjack until you sing Nighean Nan Geug backwards three times.  Those are the rules.

But even going from that argument, I'm sure there's lots of people that would say "Kentucky, Tennessee... what's the difference?"  It's a only a 3 hour and 57 minute drive from Lynchburg Tennessee to Shepherdsville Kentucky.  That's not too long, you can make a day trip from one location to the other.  But to put that in perspective, if you started at the Dewars distillery and drove North, South, East, or West for that same 223 miles, you'd be in the fucking ocean.  So it's not like the Bourbon folks are being dicks excluding Jack, other liquors have just as strict geographic requirements.

Nor am I trying to say Jack Daniels is shit.  It's not shit.  I drank some with Richard a two nights ago (yes, that was a Monday.)  It's a very fine Southern American whiskey, but it is not Bourbon and it's not Jim Beam.  And I know folks love their Jack Daniels; who prefer it over any actual bourbon with it's rotten corn sourness and its rough-around-the-edges, non-charcoal-filtered bite; but to me Jack Daniels will always just be pretend bourbon.  When I want a glass of whiskey I reach for that white label.


  1. As "the friend" who always asked for "Two fingers...Jack...neat," I have to say that it completely SHOCKS me when a bartender actually knows what I'm talking about. So much so that I'll tip them a ton just for being a knowledgeable bartender.

  2. Yeah, I've tipped big if I ask for something most modern bartenders haven't heard of and they know what I'm talking about. Cause it does happen. I try to get a vibe for a place and order accordingly. There's:

    1) Anything Places: A well stocked bar with an experienced and knowledgeable bartender.

    2) Standards Places: You're ok if you ask for drinks that are common or currently trendy.

    3) Inexperienced Places: If the ingredients are in the name, you're ok (rum and Coke, whiskey and Sprite, vodka and Mountain Dew)

    4) Shot and a beer places: I stick with a shot of whiskey and a beer, because even if they have anything other than whiskey and beer, I might get beat up for ordering a Captain and Coke.

  3. How would you categorize a retarded restaurant that that list a drink on their menu (one of only maybe 8 drinks listed), and they still get it wrong. Like several weeks ago in DC when my wife ordered a Tom Collins off the restaurants menu and instead they gave her a vodka gimlet. And then when I took it back to the bar, I had to coach the bartender on how to make it correctly and I had to repeat everything 5 times to get understood.

    It's on the fucking menu...

  4. I would categorize that as #3. "Tom Collins" does not have the ingredients in the name.

    Now I know your complaint is that it's a featured drink on the menu, but making it would require being trained on how to make it or looking it up somewhere. Correction: looking it up ANYWHERE, even a sheet with 8 featured drinks on it given to them by their manager.

    A #2 place would know how to make featured drinks, and a #4 wouldn't have featured drinks.