What we’re drinking: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel 2021 Special Release, Coy Hill High Proof
Where it’s from: Jack Daniel’s, the Tenneseee whiskey giant that’s released several other short-run single barrel releases in the past few years, including Heritage Barrel and Barrel Proof Rye. Coy Hill also marks a very recent follow-up to their first age-statement release since Prohibition.
Why we’re drinking this: Alcohol comes with many warnings. But “due to the high barrel strength, the bottle should remain upright at all times” is a first for us.
The Coy Hill release is aged on the top ricks of the oldest barrel houses on Coy Hill, the highest hill on the Jack Daniel Distillery property in Lynchburg, Tennessee. The special release features proof points ranging from 137.4 up to a whopping 148.3. I really didn’t believe Jack Daniel’s or any whiskey could really work at that ridiculous level of ABV. (That said, I have preferred JD’s higher-proof offerings in the past.)
Was this a stunt? During a Zoom tasting with Master Distiller Chris Fletcher and Assistant Distiller Lexie Phillips, we got a little backstory. “We started sampling different lots in those warehouses a few years ago,” says Fletcher. “Finding a handful of barrels above 150 proof, that was a surprise. I’m not sure we could recreate it if we tried. We didn’t do anything different with the barrels. It was just Mother Nature.”
Fletcher isn’t actually sure that, without using smaller barrels, any bourbon or American whiskey brand has released a single barrel with such a high proof. But he was up for experimenting. “We’re focused on continuing to do these special releases, or releases with a very specific approach,” he says.
That said, he does refer to Coy Hill as more of an “innovation release.” Which might mean it’s not for the everyday Jack Daniel’s drinker. Let’s test it.
How it tastes: First off, there’s nothing here on paper that’s much different from the standard Jack Daniel’s — it’s still an 80% corn, 12% malted barley and 8% rye grain bill. The whiskey is still mellowed through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. Same 53-gallon barrels, same barrel char. Basically, the only difference with Coy Hill is where the barrels aged, for how long (about nine years) and that this whiskey is, natch, uncut.
We tried a sample of the 148.3-proof release. It’s dark, almost like looking through a pot of coffee, as Fletcher suggests.
On the nose you’ll notice the first difference: That hint of banana you’d get with the JD No. 7 is gone, replaced with cinnamon, caramal, a bit of smoke and a lot of cherry. Somewhat viscous in mouthfeel and a bit dry (but surprisingly not aggressive), those cherry notes are joined by baking spices and a hint of leather once you sip. These notes all arrive mid-palate; the finish is warming but surprisingly gentle.
Definitely, definitely, definitely add a bit of water, as the dark fruit notes will open up. Overall, for an admittedly experimental release, Coy Hill just tastes like a very good and somewhat unique Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel release — you’d never guess the punch it’s packing. And we actually preferred it over the recent 10-year release.
Fun fact: So why not 150 proof? At that point, Fletcher says the high-proof vapors would build up and potentially push the cork out of the bottle. Even at a slightly lower level, the company added the “don’t tip on side” disclaimer because they believe there could be leaks if the bottle is exposed to warmer conditions.
Where to buy it: A limited number of 750ml bottles are now available with a suggested retail price of $70.
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