Oh, Jack Daniels, that American stalwart of brown liquor. It has become an icon of masculinity and sells like hotcakes all around the world. Each of these qualities made it a long time before I was ready to give JD a fair appraisal.
Part of that is because I think Jack Daniels is the closest you can get in liquid form to "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown. (Not the reference you were expecting, eh?) Back when that book came out in 2003, it was talked about and talked about, and endlessly recommended. However, it was the only book that some of these people had read in years.
More to the point: my suspicion with JD drinkers is that they like it well enough, but most of the time they lack any basis of comparison. On the shelf right at this very moment are an awful lot of quality bourbons—or Tennessee Whiskeys, if you feel like being real nitpicky. And, as it is with almost all things, the most aggressively-marketed product is not necessarily the best.
But while I'm sometimes utterly stupefied by what people can become brand-loyal to—i.e., Jose Cuervo Gold or Pendleton—I can actually understand why people come back to this. It certainly wasn't my favorite whiskey by any means, but I had a better time with my taster than I anticipated.
First, there's a bit to play with in the nose. I found a little bit of fennel and dill that gave JD some unexpected depth, and it wasn't tremendously varnish heavy. But what the aroma tells you straight away is that this is going to double down on corn, and it's going to be super-duper sweet.
There's something a little bit charming about cowboys and hard rockers not knowing that they've gravitated to the whiskey equivalent of Pepsi. My friend Sarah referred to JD as "Jack Bananials," and I'll be damned if I haven't been able to taste anything but corn and banana-flavored candy since. In comparison to other whiskeys in its price range, JD is a little mellower, and was less cloying and astringent than I was expecting. Still, there is a bit of Robitussin-like artificiality about the flavors that isn't great.
Finish wise, the JD exits with toffee, black pepper, and chewing gum (oddly enough). It's definitely spicy as it fades out, and I certainly wouldn't call the finish long, but here again the JD is agreeable and fairly genial. Thinking about it all, I think it'd be a pretty good add-in for a Hot Toddy. The abundant sweetness would definitely balance out the tartness of lemon.
Again, the irony of JD is that it's an "all things for all people" kind of product, which makes it a little incongruous with the marketing image of JD drinkers being the kinds of rugged individualists that wouldn't have a problem with breaking a pool cue over some guy's head or leading the police on a car chase. JD isn't assertive—it's gentle. But again, I'm pretty sure that's a calculated quality. "That's not a design flaw... it's a feature," as the saying goes.
All in all, I find it boring and a little thin. I get why people gravitate to it, but I probably won't be stocking more, and I certainly wouldn't pay the outrageous prices bar owners know they can charge JD drinkers.