As is the case with so many newly minted whiskey drinkers, I started out drinking Jack Daniel's. In my college days, it was Old No. 7 straight from the bottle. Later on, as I grew more sophisticated and actually started using glassware, it was Jack's rich, chrewy Single Barrel in Manhattans which, shamefully, I served shaken, complete with a thin layer of froth on top. In the early 2000s, as standard Jack "dumbed down" to 80 proof (from 90 in its heyday) and new and noteworthy craft distilleries around the country started popping up like pimples on a pubescent, I quit JD without a second thought. They sucked me back in with 2013's Sinatra Select, one of my favorite American whiskeys, and other recent innovations like their Tennessee Rye have won back my (sometimes grudging) respect.
All of this is to say that Jack and I have a long, on-again off-again relationship. And while none of their expressions are among my go-tos, when I do drink it, i get a case of the warm-and-fuzzies, like reconnecting with an old friend. I still can't stomach the 80 proof Old No. 7, but there are plenty of superior JD variations to keep me happy.
The latest addition to the portfolio is, to the best of my knowledge, Jack Daniel's first ever bottled-in-bond whiskey, unless there was one going way, way back that I've forgotten about. The bottled-in-bond category itself goes back to 1897, when adulterated, tampered-with whiskeys were so rampant — and quite often lethal — that the government stepped in and established some guidelines. To be called a bottled-in-bond, a spirit needs to be made at one distillery during one six-month distilling season; it has to be aged under lock and key in a federal warehouse for no less than four years, and it has to be bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). Bottled-in-bond was a de facto trademark of quality for decades. But as technology progressed and bottles became tougher to tamper with, the need for bottled-in-bond ceased to exist. Coupled with the rise in popularity of lighter, lower-proof whiskeys designed to compete with vodka and light rum, B-in-B settled into a small, low-profile niche for old-time drinkers.
In the last couple of years, bottled-in-bond has been rediscovered by bartenders and whiskeyphiles alike. At 50% ABV, it's strong enough to make its presence felt in cocktails, but it's not too strong to sip neat or with a splash of water. At four years old, it's got a nice balance of wood and grain. And because it's aged for a relatively short period of time, it's usually priced lower than its longer-aged counterparts (Jack Daniel's Bottled-In-Bond is $38 for a 1-liter bottle).
If you're going in expecting the same complexity from JD B-in-B as you get from Single Barrel or SInatra Select, you're sort of missing the point. Bottled-in-bond is a workhorse, an everyday drink, rather than a top-shelf, special occasion dram. As a sipper, JD B-in-B has rich caramel and brown sugar notes offset by a dry finish, heavy on the oak and char. In cocktails, its big and bold and makes a fine Manhattan. And it's priced to move. In fact, I think it makes a better introduction to Jack Daniel's than Old No. 7. The only drawback is that, for now at least, it can only be found in duty-free shops at global travel retail. Hopefully that'll change before long.