Jack Daniel’s is the best-selling whiskey brand in the world. Jim Beam is the second best-selling whiskey brand in the world. But that difference between them is probably more important to the brands themselves than to you and me, who are interested in more relevant differences between them. So here are nine (more relevant) differences between Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys.
1. Type of Whiskey – Tennessee / Bourbon
The first difference between Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam is that they’re different types of whiskey. Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee whiskey whereas Jim Beam is a bourbon.
This may seem unimportant but it’s not. Whiskey types are defined by law and many of the conditions a whiskey must meet to be defined as a particular type of whiskey have to do with how it’s made, which (and this is where it’s important) effects its flavor.
Bourbons must be:
- Made in America
- Made from at least 51% corn
- Distilled to no more than 80%ABV
- Aged in new, charred oak barrels
- Placed in the barrel at no more than 62.5%ABV
- Bottled at a minimum of 40%ABV
Tennessee whiskey must meet the same conditions as that of bourbons but in addition must be:
- Made in the state of Tennessee
- Undergo the Lincoln County Process (filtering through charcoal)
Now you may be thinking that since Tennessee whiskey is just bourbon made in Tennessee that’s been charcoal filtered, there’s not much of a difference between them after all. And you’d be right.
At least according to those who think so too. Others, however, believe the Lincoln County Process is the extra step that makes Tennessee whiskey everything bourbon is and more, and according to them, this is a very important difference indeed.
2. Ratio of Grains in The Mash Bill
Although, with regard to the legal definitions there’s only two differences between Tennessee whiskey and bourbon, there’s still plenty of room for many other differences between Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys. And one of them is the mash bill.
Both Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys have a mash bill of corn, rye and malted barley but the ratios used by the two brands are different. Jack Daniel’s whiskeys (except the Tennessee Rye) are made from 80% corn, 8% rye and 12% malted barley. The percentages for Jim Beam whiskeys is unknown but (except the Rye whiskey) they must be at least 51% corn.
Now you may argue that since the ratio for Jim Beam whiskeys is unknown it could be the same as that of Jack Daniel’s, but I think that’s unlikely. That’s because these whiskeys get much of their sweetness from the corn in their mash bills (which is why this is an important difference) so Jim Beam would want to say if their whiskeys were made with a lot more than 51% corn.
3. Number of Distillations – One / Two
Jack Daniel’s distills their whiskeys only once, but Jim Beam distills their whiskeys twice.
Distillation separates the alcohol from the water so it can be concentrated but at the same time it also separates out many unpleasant tasting impurities that come from the grain or the by-products created by the yeast during the fermentation process.
This means that the more times a spirit is distilled the more unwanted flavor compounds are removed and the smoother the whiskey will be. However, this also means that the more times a spirit is distilled the more wanted flavor compounds are removed.
I think this explains the difference between the number of times Jack Daniel’s distills their whiskeys and the number of times Jim Beam distills their whiskeys. Many brands distill their whiskeys twice to remove unwanted flavor compounds, Jim Beam included, but Jack Daniel’s has a higher percentage of corn and presumably doesn’t want to lose too much of the sweet flavor that comes from it.
4. Charcoal Filtration
While this difference has already been mentioned as what makes Jack Daniel’s a Tennessee whiskey and Jim Beam a bourbon, Jack Daniel’s has its own variation on the process which makes it uniquely different.
First, they make their own charcoal by dousing pallets of hard sugar maple with raw, unaged Jack Daniel’s distillate (so that no petroleum contaminates the taste of the whiskey) and setting it on fire. Then they grind down the resulting charcoal into smaller pieces to increase the surface area for the off-flavor molecules that are being filtered out, to stick to.
Finally, the charcoal is placed into 10-foot-deep tanks and the distillate is poured in and works its way to the bottom over three to five days. By the end of the process many impurities in the distillate will have been filtered out so it’s already soft and mellow, even before being placed into the barrels for aging. Which is why Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are known for being smooth.
Jim Beam whiskeys aren’t charcoal filtered but that doesn’t mean they’re not smooth at all. In fact, some of their expressions are very smooth, (for example the Jim Beam Honey because of the honey liqueur in it and Jim Beam Single Barrel due to coming from the best and longest matured barrels) but in general they’re not as smooth as Jack Daniel’s whiskeys.
Also, Jack Daniel’s produce a whiskey (Gentleman Jack) that’s charcoal filtered twice, so it’s even smoother than the regular Jack Daniel’s smoothness.
5. The Length of Time Spent Maturing
All Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys are aged in barrels for at least four years, but Jack Daniel’s uses taste as well as time to determine when their whiskeys are ready.
This means that once a barrel has been aged for four years, it will be sampled every few months by one of the Jack Daniel’s tasters, who will determine based on its flavor if the whiskey has matured and is ready to be bottled.
Not only that, but when it comes to their more complex expressions that have been aged for longer, Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are aged anywhere between four and seven years, whereas Jim Beam whiskeys are aged for ‘more’ than four years.
Now you may argue that since the amount of extra time the more complex Jim Beam whiskeys are aged for is unknown, it could be the same as that of Jack Daniel’s, but, for the same reason as before I think that’s unlikely. The longer a whiskey is aged the better it (usually) is, and Jim Beam would want to say if their whiskeys were aged for close to seven years.
6. The Different Whiskeys Within Each Brand
There are ten current Jack Daniel’s whiskeys and 13 current Jim Beam whiskeys.
The following table shows the different whiskeys Jack Daniel’s make and their unique characteristics.
|Old No. 7||Standard expression|
|Tennessee Rye||Standard rye expression|
|Tennessee Honey||Combination of whiskey and honey liqueur|
|Tennessee Fire||Combination of whiskey and cinnamon liqueur|
|Tennessee Apple||Combination of whiskey and apple liqueur|
|Gentleman Jack||Charcoal filtered twice|
|Sinatra Select||Aged in barrels with deep grooves carved into their staves|
|Single Barrel Select||Comes from barrels stored in the uppermost part of the warehouse|
|Single Barrel Rye||Comes from barrels stored in the uppermost part of the warehouse|
|Single Barrel Barrel Proof||Comes from barrels stored in the uppermost part of the warehouse and bottled at cask strength|
As you can see, Jack Daniel’s make a standard expression, a standard rye expression (with a mash bill of 70% rye, 18% corn and 12% malted barley), and three drinks that are not technically whiskeys (due to being less than 40%ABV and containing additives) but a combination of whiskey and liqueurs of different flavors.
They also make several more complex whiskeys. Gentleman Jack is charcoal filtered twice. Sinatra Select has deep grooves carved in the staves of the barrels so that the whiskey has more exposure to the oak and can acquire more flavor. The single barrel expressions come from barrels stored in the uppermost part of the Jack Daniel’s warehouse, where increased changes in temperature cause the whiskey’s flavors to become more intense.
The following table shows the different whiskeys Jim Beam make and their unique characteristics.
|White Label||Standard expression|
|Rye||Standard rye expression|
|Apple||Combination of whiskey and apple liqueur|
|Honey||Combination of whiskey and honey liqueur|
|Fire||Combination of whiskey and cinnamon liqueur|
|Red Stag||Combination of whiskey and cherry liqueur|
|Vanilla||Combination of whiskey and vanilla liqueur|
|Peach||Combination of whiskey and peach liqueur|
|Orange||Combination of whiskey and orange liqueur|
|Black Extra-Aged||Aged for longer than the standard expression|
|Devil’s Cut||Contains whiskey extracted from deep inside the barrel walls|
|Double Oak||Aged in two barrels|
|Single Barrel||Comes from the best barrels|
As you can see, Jim Beam make a standard expression, a rye expression (with a mash bill of at least 51% rye) and seven drinks that are not technically whiskeys but a combination of whiskey and liqueurs of different flavors.
They also make several more complex whiskeys. Black Extra-Aged is aged for longer than usual (although how much longer is unknown). Devil’s Cut is a blend of Black Extra-Aged and whiskey extracted from deep inside the barrel walls.
The Double Oak is first aged in new, charred, American white oak barrels for four years and is then transferred to a second freshly charred, white oak barrel. The Single Barrel expressions come frombarrels that due to various circumstantial factors such as placement in the rack house, the intensity of the season and length of aging, produce a more flavorful whiskey.
7. Alcohol Content
There’s a difference between Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam in terms of the alcohol content of their whiskeys, as shown in the following table.
|Jack Daniel’s||ABV||Jim Beam||ABV|
|Old No. 7||40%||White Label||40%|
|Gentleman Jack||40%||Red Stag||35%|
|Single Barrel Select||47% & 45%||Peach||32.5%|
|Single Barrel Rye||45%||Orange||35%|
|Single Barrel Barrel Proof||62.5% – 70%||Black Extra-Aged||43%|
|Single Barrel||47.5% – 54%|
As you can see, the standard expression of both brands is 40%ABV, but Jack Daniel’s bottle their standard rye whiskey at 45%ABV. Both bottle their whiskey flavored drinks at 35%ABV (with the exception of Jim Beam Peach that’s bottled at 32.5%ABV) and most of their more complex whiskeys at 43%, 45% or 47%ABV.
The most significant difference between the two brands in terms of alcohol content, is that Jack Daniel’s produces a cask strength whiskey whose expressions range from an incredibly strong 62.5%ABV to a makes-the-lower-end-seem-mild strong 70%ABV!
The following table shows the approximate price for 750ml bottles (unless otherwise indicated) of both Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys. You’ll see the difference between the two straight away.
|Jack Daniel’s||Jim Beam|
|Old No. 7||$25.99||White Label||$23.99 (1L)|
|Tennessee Fire||$24.99||Honey||$23.09 (1L)|
|Gentleman Jack||$33.99||Red Stag||$18.69|
|Sinatra Select||$172.99 (1L)||Vanilla||$17.84|
|Single Barrel Select||$54.99||Peach||$17.99|
|Single Barrel Rye||$54.99||Orange||$16.99|
|Single Barrel Barrel Proof||$62.99||Black Extra-Aged||$23.73|
That’s right, Jim Beam whiskeys are cheaper than Jack Daniel’s whiskeys. Much cheaper. Even a 1L bottle of the standard Jim Beam expression is cheaper than a 750ml bottle of the standard Jack Daniel’s expression! And when it comes to the higher quality single barrel expressions, Jim Beam is still the cheaper of the two.
The reason why Jim Beam whiskeys are cheaper is not because they’re of lower quality. The reason why Jim Beam whiskeys are cheaper is because Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are very very well marketed indeed.
The last difference between Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys is also the most important. After all, lots of delicious flavors is (usually) the reason why you’re drinking whiskey in the first place.
The most common flavors in Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are:
Vanilla, oak, banana, honey, pepper, caramel and cinnamon
The most common flavors in Jim Beam whiskeys are:
Caramel, vanilla, corn, oak, toffee, spices and peanuts
As you can see both brands have many flavors in common. This is not surprising when you consider that despite their differences, Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam also have many similarities, especially when it comes to things that affect flavor. They’re both:
- Made from corn, rye and malted barley
- Aged for at least four years
- Aged in new, charred, American white oak barrels
However, there is one important difference between the two brands when it comes to flavor. Jack Daniel’s has a relatively prominent banana flavor and Jim Beam has a relatively prominent peanut flavor. If you prefer one flavor over the other or dislike one flavor in particular, then for you, this will be the only difference between Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys that matters.
You can buy any of these whiskeys at drizly.com here.