When a company as enormous and influential as Jack Daniel's unveils a new brand for only the third time since Old No. 7 Tennessee Sipping Whiskey debuted in 1866 -- and for the first time since the Clinton administration -- you know it's going to be a big deal. What makes it a really big deal is that if you tried this new product blindfolded, you'd probably have no idea it has anything to do with Jack Daniel's.
Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey is the name, and liqueur, not whiskey, is technically its game, due to the fact that it's a mere 70 proof, or 35% alcohol by volume (spirits are generally at least 80 proof). It's a combination of classic Jack Daniel's and genuine honey direct from Tennessee. And as you might imagine, it's a lot sweeter than the stuff we've seen rockers swig straight from the bottle and tuxedo-clad swingers sip from chilled cocktail glasses. This isn't just a slight variation on the Jack we all know, it's almost a totally different animal.
JD says Tennessee Honey was developed with a "new audience" in mind. The first thing I thought was, "Here's something for sorority girls who like to drink but don't like the taste of hard alcohol." Jack Daniel's, probably sensing the cynicism a-brewing among other journalists and bloggers, flew me and a bunch of my fellow scribes to Las Vegas. Once in Sin City, we sampled Tennessee Honey-based cocktails made by some of Vegas' finest bartenders, and also met with Jack's own master taster, Jeff Norman. And you know what? I still think it was made for sorority girls who don't like the taste of hard alcohol. But it's also a beautifully crafted liqueur that can appeal to hardcore bourbon-heads.
Whiskey and honey have been cozy bedfellows for many moons -- Drambuie, which pairs honey with Scotch, debuted more than 100 years ago. Tennessee Honey's closest competitor, however, is Wild Turkey's American Honey. The two brands have the same idea, but they taste remarkably different. I think they're both pretty tasty. But American Honey is a smooth, "easy" drink, heavy on citrus and the sweetness, inferring a honey flavor without really delivering it. Tennessee Honey, on the other hand, has all the complexity of fresh, raw honey -- dry and nutty, even slightly vegetal. Sure, it's sweet, but it's got a flavor that unfolds in layers, much the way a good honey does, with a lovely, muted whiskey burn on the finish.
Most serious drinkers won't reach for a honey liqueur nearly as often as they reach for a bourbon (or, in the case of Jack Daniel's, a Tennessee sipping whiskey). But it's quite a versatile mixer, as I can confirm firsthand; while in Las Vegas, I judged a Tennessee Honey mixology contest and sampled 14 different drinks in which it was employed, most of them quite fine. My favorite, which wasn't included in the contest, is the Tennessee Honey Smash, a mojito variation employing fresh mint, fresh lemon juice and honey in addition to the liqueur. And it's also great for topping off your lattes and cappuccinos, or pouring over your ice cream. Even if you're not in touch with your inner sorority girl.