What To Drink This Week: Jack Daniels Honey Liqueur
It’s been nearly two years since I had my say about Jack Daniels’ last crack at innovation, an entry into the pre-mixed cocktail race whose sole purpose was staring its customer in the face and daring him to be as lazy as he could be. I admit that I was not kind in that assessment, and the comments that we receive to this day — mainly from those very passionate about casual drinking in public — continue to reinforce just how many people will defend Jack Daniels to the death, no matter how terrible their ideas.
I completely understand why, because Jack Daniels is such an incredibly successful brand. Even non-drinkers know what it is, if not exactly how it tastes, and few are the novice drinkers who do not eventually test their mettle against it. When people order whisky in movies, a Jack Daniels bottle appears; when rock stars or bikers are throwing shit at each other, one of the projectiles is always distinctively square and long-necked.
This isn’t to say that Jack Daniels isn’t just about power-drinking hard-cases who kick your ass and only ask questions about what way they feel like kicking it… but it sure does feel like it’s mostly about that. Jack has a declarative position as liquor for people who do not fuck around, a good honest blue-collar booze that marks you as someone who can Handle The Hard Stuff. Who doesn’t want to be part of that crowd? Of course you’d want to drink that on the beach, in easily-accessible can form, and write long diatribes about it in comments sections.
All of which is fine, of course, but it makes me wonder how Jack Daniels devotees are going to react to what’s come out now…
There are two very important things you must absorb — and one thing you absolutely must do — about Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. So, know this:
- It does not taste very much like Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky
- It is very, very good
and now, go forth to:
- Buy it.
I am honestly stunned that a liqueur like this came out of a bottle that looked like that. I didn’t actually know what to do when I first tasted it, because it so thoroughly sidestepped my expectations. I had anticipated what many distillers are doing elsewhere with whisky and smoke, in that they take their base product and layer a bit of flavor on top; I had not in any way foreseen something that starts with honey, and follows it all the way through.
Honey is present in this liquor from the moment you first pour it into a glass. It’s got very long legs, and it’s almost all you can smell on first whiff. Whether it’s flavor science or actual boatloads of honey, I can’t actually be sure — but if it’s the former, then it’s pretty well done. More to the point, it does not put forth the same hot, strongly alcoholic aroma that regular JD would. At most, you get a slightly peppery scent, but if you close your eyes you might think someone was letting you sniff their tea.
Let’s pause for a moment while we process that. This is a floral, sweet, clover-honey infused liquor, dark gold and sticky enough to cling to your fingers. Hang onto that, as we move forward.
Drinking Tennessee Honey is just as surprising. The good ol’ whisky flavor is in there, but it’s layered under an unmistakably bright, aromatic flavor. Not only is it surprisingly fresh, but it’s also as smooth as promised — even drinking it straight, there’s no clenching of teeth or clearing of throat to be done. It goes down very easy, dangerously so for a liqueur that’s still 35% ABV.
There’re differences elsewhere too, naturally. Tennessee Honey doesn’t bring the same fire in the belly (which is sometimes the entire point) of good ol’ Jack Daniels, nor does it mix well at all with the favorite standbys. In a glass of Coke, Honey is sugar against sugar; in most classic JD cocktails, Honey would be either crushed or fail to add the right kind of spice. If anything, Tennessee Honey is a full-octane St-Germain, calling for altogether a different approach.
Which brings me back to my original question — if Jack Daniels has become synonymous with hard liquor and the people who love it, how will they respond to something that smells like flowers, clover and bee-fresh honey? Is Sons of Anarchy going to feature an episode where one of the gang just can’t get the sweet taste of Tennessee Honey off his lips, and not have that result in a fatal beating?
Of course, the answer is no. Jack Daniels has done the exact opposite of Jack and Coke in a can; they’ve stretched their core product into a very different space, and produced something genuinely enjoyable in the pursuit. Tennessee Honey is still a serious liquor, but in a wholly different way — its flavor, character and application are distinct, even while its weight is still quite hefty.
Best of all, this is a drink perfectly timed, both for:
- Springtime, when people are eager and interested to drink sweet, strong things in even the faintest of warm sunlight, and
- Party season, where not only could Tennessee Honey have a broad appeal, but can actually become a conversation piece. Just watching someone work through their first experience with it is fun all by itself.
At $30 a bottle, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey falls squarely into the price range of all the novelty liquors dropping this spring — but unlike many of them (good God, marshmallow flavored vokda?), this one has a lot to offer your liquor cabinet for the summer to come.
Rating: BUY! Good God, reward them for trying something different!