Is Jack Daniel's a Bourbon Whiskey?

So Jack Daniels want to make us believe, that it is not a bourbon - but it meets all standards of a bourbon - only it is better?!

Half of it is true: Jack Daniels meets all qualification points for a bourbon. And yes it is true, that they add one more step - the charcoal mellowing. However this doesn't make it not a bourbon.

Well - point is, that the question is not really adequate. The answers to the rather vague question: "Is Jack Daniels a Bourbon?" is driven by semantics and interpretations.

What you could ask is: Can Jack Daniels rightly be called bourbon?
And the answer is: yes, it can. It meets all points to be even a Straight Bourbon [however please note the differentiation to Kentucky Straight Bourbon - as this is again a regional denomination, which Jack Daniels obviously doesn't meet].
The video is explaining exactly the laws. Before Jack Daniels also stated very proud, that they are sour mash. This was a bit... misleading, as most American Straight Whiskeys are sour mash - it seems, that Jack Daniels dropped this differentiation.
However can Bourbon also be filtered through charcoal. Again, yes! Some distilleries like Heavenhill are filtering their spirits through charcoal - and there is no law, which would prohibit this. The Tennessee whiskeys are a bit unique, as they are using sugar maple wood for the charcoal, but this is just their choice - there is no law, which would prevent other "Bourbon" producer to do so as well.

The thing with the regional denomination
Now it might be quite clear, why Jack Daniels insist, that they are not Bourbons but Tennessee whiskey. There is a ton of bourbons and lately there are a lot of stunning products on the market place, which might be better than Jack Daniels - but are for sure better value. However their brand name as well as the regional denomination [and their marketing] sets them aside of the competition. It is very clever. Problem is, that they don't have any stricter production laws in Tennessee than anywhere else in the US [which is usually the justification of a regional denomination]. Except of the regional limits, Tennessee whiskey doesn't have to have a more strict mashbill, the whiskeys don't have to be charcoal mellowed. The don't need to have a higher proof than the rest of the pack. This makes the "protected origin" Tennessee whiskey not worse in a marketing perspective - however makes it pretty useless, if it comes to the realistic advantage of this region.

So - is Jack Daniels any better than other whiskeys?
An answer would be very subjective. Some people just love Jack Daniels Old No. 7 [the "normal" black label]. But this is the perception of brands. Jack Daniels definitely has an unique character.
Furthermore what I can say for sure is, that Jack Daniels loses a lot of points, when it comes to value for money. Love it or hate it, but if you are comparing it to equally priced bourbons, it gets a fierce competition. The prices are quite inconsistent in different markets, however if you compare it with Jim Beam Black [which is "a better" Jim Beam - pretty good indeed], JD is more expensive, but just might not be as good.
Here in Dubai it is a whole different story: Jack Daniels is pretty expensive and somehow let most of the competition overtake it. But then, the knowledge of American whiskey isn't that great here and people might only go for the biggest and best known brand.

Back to the original question - is Jack Daniels a Bourbon
So we learned, that it could be called a bourbon; but what are the points, against and for the statement, that it is not a bourbon?

  • Technically it is a Bourbon Whiskey made in Tennessee.
  • The NAFTA [North American Federal Trade Agency] is listing Jack Daniels as Bourbon!
  • The TTB [Tennessee alcohol and tobacco tax and trade bureau] doesn't state any specific restriction to Tennessee whiskey.
  • No restrictions for Tennessee whiskey is stricter than the ones for Straight Bourbon.
  • However Tennessee whiskey is a controlled and registered origin and denomination.
You have to choose now, what it is. I think it doesn't matter - it is just a marketing fluke. But I would be very interested in your point of view!


  1. My feeling is that just because JD meets the criteria to be called a bourbon, it doesn't mean it is one. The criteria are there to make sure whiskies calling themselves bourbons meet certain standards not to generalise the whiskey category. Whisk(e)y is a lot more than the rules, its an industry borne out of community and history. Even if a whiskey is produced in a similar way to another, if you ask the guys who make it they'll explain it very succinctly why it is different. Anyway that's just my 2 cents on the matter.

    1. Thanks for the comment James [and sorry, that I just replied now]. Yeah - off course everybody like to look unique. I think it is also amazing to be called Straight Bourbon - except you have developed your own branded origin [like Tennessee] and put so much marketing money into it, that finally everybody who drinks quality spirits recognize it.
      And thanks for the complement!

  2. Nice article though, well done.

  3. Tennessee Whiskey is the way it is because they wanted to be different than Bourbon. The Lynchburg and Cascade Hollow boys saw to this.The Maple charcoal filtering adds natural color and flavor to the whiskey. U.S. Gov. standards for Bourbon prohibit color or flavor to straight Bourbon. The smokiness is apparent in the nose and taste. I enjoy both so it's a win win situation to me.

    1. Like above stated, you are absolutely right - it is a marketing tool to be different [if everybody acknowledge this].
      However properly burned coal won't really imply smokiness [analog the heavily charred oak barrels of all straight whiskeys are not adding a lot of smokiness]. And it should definitely not add color.
      Again - the only difference between "filtered whiskeys" like Jack Daniels and some others like Evan Williams is, that the guys in Tennessee use sugar maple oak and the guys in Kentucky use normal American white oak. However this difference should not make a huge difference...

    2. Having read this comment another time, I have to debunk some myths: charcoal won't impart any color to the whisky. In fact vodka and rum where previously filtered to remove flavor and (in the case of rum) color - this was before the industry went over to use activated carbon.
      The issue is this: Evan Williams black label is also charcoal filtered - exactly as Jack Daniels. But it is a Bourbon.
      Further hints of smokiness come also from barrel aging - not due to the rather short contact with the maple charcoal.


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