Hazmat whiskeys occupy a pretty small niche in the whiskey world. There are only a few bourbons that hit ABVs over 120. Even then, most bottles tap out at around 130-136 proof (or 65 to 68 percent). And, generally speaking, those whiskeys are heat bombs first and foremost with the nose and palate often getting lost in the shuffle.
Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Chris Fletcher and Assistant Distiller Lexie Phillips wanted to break that pattern. So they went a different route with their latest high-proof release. And what a fascinating route it is.
The latest Jack Daniel’s 2021 Single Barrel Special Release Coy Hill High Proof was picked based on its flavor profile alone. When it comes to finding these single barrel releases, Fletcher and Phillips are in a truly unique position. They have millions of barrels to choose from with so many variables of taste, texture, and proof that it’d make your head spin. That gives the duo the chance to take their time to really seek out what they’re looking for, beyond just “really, really potent whiskey.” Essentially, they don’t see any point in chasing the high-proof trend if what’s in the bottle isn’t drinkable.
To that end, Jack Daniel’s ended up bottling what might be the highest proof American whiskey ever widely produced. The bottle has a hefty 148.3 proof (Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled at 184 proof/92 percent ABV is above that, but that was an unaged expression). It’s so high that it’s officially a Hazmat bourbon (140 proof and above) that cannot be taken on flights due to volatility. The bottle also has to be stored upright. If it’s stored on its side, too much pressure will build in the bottle and the cork will pop or crack the glass. This isn’t whiskey for the light-hearted, folks.
I was lucky enough to get the first taste of this with Fletcher and Phillips last week (pictured far left below). Let’s dig into what’s in the bottle!
Jack Daniel’s 2021 Single Barrel Special Release Coy Hill High Proof
Average Price: $70 MSRP (Price may vary)
The whiskey in the bottle is the classic Jack Daniel’s mash of 80 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and eight percent rye. The Tennessee whiskey was filtered through Jack’s drip-drop sugar maple charcoal system before barreling and aging at the very top — where the air is dry and warm — of rickhouses number eight and number 13. The whiskey is bottled straight from the barrel with no other fussing.
The nose on this one is … soft. There’s a whiff of classic Jack Daniel’s dark fruit that feels very much like a deep and dark cherry cordial with a dry, woody cinnamon stick dipped inside — then you licked the cherry cordial off the stick and put it under your nose. A touch of worn library leather is also lurking on the nose, with a hint towards dry pecan shells and rich, almost smoked butterfat. The taste embraces the sweetness with a wet brown sugar vibe that’s married to a touch of dried apple cores next to a holiday cake full of dark spices, brandied fruits, and fat nuts that’s all then soaked with fiery whiskey. That butter returns as the mid-palate sweetness ebbs and turns more towards almost burnt toffee touched with a flake of salt as a soft but old leather pouch full of sticky tobacco arrives to round everything out. The last feeling you get is this slow step upwards towards an embracing warmth in your neck and chest as those ABVs finally make themselves known.
This is bottled in Jack’s now kind of iconic single barrel barrels. They’re a little stouter and feel like you’re drinking back in the art-deco era. The label is mostly embossed, allowing you to see the dark and syrupy liquid inside.
It’s very clear that this was picked for the flavor profile with the ABVs being secondary at best. Sure, you feel the warmth on the end, but it’s really the beauty of the whiskey on the nose and palate that makes this a winner and all-around easy sipper (with a little water or a rock).
95/100 — We live in a world where whiskeys are bottled just to have a huge ABV or proof on the label with less regard for the actual taste. Jack Daniel’s has seemingly flipped the script. It’s very clear this was picked for taste first and foremost and it’s pretty damn delicious while delivering the highest ABVs on the shelf today.