Jack Daniel’s is the best-selling whiskey brand in the world. At the same time, some of the best whiskies in the world are Scotches, so it’s no wonder that some people make a connection and think that Jack Daniel’s must be a Scotch whisky. However, this is a mistake. The two are very different. Jack Daniel’s is absolutely NOT Scotch and here’s why.
Jack Daniel’s is not Scotch because Jack Daniel’s is a brand of Tennessee whiskey that produces several different expressions, whereas Scotch is the overall term that refers to any whisky made in Scotland.
Of course, while not being made in the right country is technically speaking, enough for Jack Daniel’s not to be Scotch, when you look at all the differences between the two whiskeys, you’ll see that there’s far more to why Jack Daniel’s is not Scotch.
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Why Jack Daniel’s Is Not Scotch
The best way to understand why Jack Daniel’s is not Scotch, is by understanding what each is in the first place.
As mentioned, Jack Daniel’s is a brand of Tennessee whiskey that produces several different expressions.
Like all Tennessee whiskeys, Jack Daniel’s whiskeys have to be:
- Made in the US state of Tennessee.
- Made from at least 51% corn.
- Distilled to no more than 80%ABV.
- Filtered through charcoal – the Lincoln County Process.
- Aged in new, charred oak barrels.
- Placed in the barrel at no more than 62.5%ABV.
- Bottled at a minimum of 40%ABV.
The seven main Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are:
- Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7
- Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye
- Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack
- Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select
- Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select
- Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye
- Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof
Scotch is the overall term that refers to any whisky made in Scotland. All Scotch whiskies must be:
- Made from water and malted barley. Other grains can be included but they must be whole grains.
- Distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% ABV.
- Matured in used, oak barrels for at least three years.
- Free of any additional substances other than water and caramel coloring.
- Bottled at a minimum of 40%ABV.
There are five different types of Scotch. They are:
This is Scotch that’s made from 100% malted barley, which comes from a single distillery. It must also be distilled at least twice in a pot still. More on this in the next section.
This is Scotch that’s made from a blend of two or more single malts from different distilleries.
This is Scotch that’s made from malted barley and other whole grains, which comes from a single distillery.
This is Scotch that’s made from a blend of two or more single grain Scotches from different distilleries.
This is Scotch that’s made from one or more single malt Scotches and one or more single grain Scotches.
And within each of these types of Scotch, there are many brands producing many different expressions.
The Difference Between Jack Daniel’s and Scotch
Now we understand what makes something Jack Daniel’s or Scotch, we can easily see that there’s more to why Jack Daniel’s is not Scotch than where they’re made. Here are the most important differences between them in more detail.
1. The Grains Used
Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are (with one exception) made from a mash bill of 80% corn, 8% rye and 12% malted barley. Corn is clearly the main ingredient which is part of the reason why the whiskey is so sweet.
Corn features far less in Scotch whiskies. Single and blended malts are as mentioned, made from 100% malted barley – which is part of the reason for their great taste. Grain whiskies contain other cereals as well as malted barley but that can be any grain and corn is not especially prominent. Which is why when it comes to blended Scotch, the most important thing is how much of it is malt whisky.
2. Number and Type of Distillations
Jack Daniel’s distill their whiskeys only once, but Scotches are usually distilled twice.
Since the more times a spirit is distilled the more flavor compounds from the original grain are removed, it’s understandable that Jack Daniel’s only distills their whiskeys once. Presumably, they want to keep as much of the sweet flavor from the corn as possible.
On the other hand, single malt Scotches keep a lot of flavor from the grain despite being distilled twice because they’re distilled in a pot still. Pot stills produce a more flavorful distillate than column stills (which Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are distilled in) because it’s less concentrated, so it retains more flavor from the grain.
3. Charcoal Filtration
Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are all charcoal filtered. Scotches are not.
The point of charcoal filtering is to remove as many impurities from the distillate as possible. That way it’s already soft and mellow even before being placed into the barrels for aging. It’s what gives Jack Daniel whiskeys their famous smoothness.
Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack is charcoal filtered twice. Once as usual before being placed into the barrels and once after to filter out even more impurities. That’s why it’s even smoother than other Jack Daniel’s expressions.
4. Length Of Time Spent Maturing
All Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are aged in barrels for at least four years. After that they will be sampled every few months by one of their tasters, who will determine based on its flavor if the whiskey has matured and is ready to be bottled. Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are between four and seven years old.
Scotch whiskies must be aged for a minimum of three years as mentioned, but are often aged for far longer. You can find Scotches that have been aged for 12, 15, 18, 21 years and even older.
The fact that Scotches are usually aged for longer than Jack Daniel’s whiskeys doesn’t automatically mean that they’re better. That’s because climate can speed up the aging the process. Jack Daniel’s whiskeys aging in Lynchburg Tennessee with seasonal fluctuations that include heat in the summer, mature much quicker than Scotch whiskies aging in the year-round mild, temperate climate of Scotland that take a long time to mature.
Which is why Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are aged for less time than Scotches. They’re ready sooner. On the other hand, single malt Scotches that are aged for much longer than it takes to be just ‘ready’, have far more flavors than Jack Daniel’s whiskeys.
5. Number and Type of Casks Used for Maturation
As mentioned, Jack Daniel’s whiskeys are matured in new, charred, American white oak barrels, whereas Scotch whiskies are matured in used oak barrels – mostly ex-bourbon and ex-sherry.
The advantage of a new barrel is that it still has all its flavors in the wood ready to come out, so it doesn’t take much for the whiskey being aged in it to pick them up. This is useful if the whiskey is only going to be aged for four to seven years.
On the other hand, the advantage of a used barrel is that although it takes more time for the whisky to pick up its remaining flavors, it will also be able to pick up flavors from the previous spirit aged by the barrel, which were absorbed into the wood. Which is why single malt Scotches are often aged in more than one barrel – and why they have such a wide variety of flavors.