Tennessee Whiskey Basics

Understanding Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey Mural on Beale Street
Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey Mural on Beale Street. Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

America's two largest whiskey producing states, Kentucky and Tennessee, both create outstanding, if slightly different styles of whiskey. Here is an easy guide to Tennessee whiskey.

Tennessee whiskey is subject to the same guidelines as bourbon regarding age, mashbill distillation and barrel aging. Tennessee whiskey must be made from at least 51% corn, aged a minimum of two years in new, charred American oak barrels and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% abv). In sum, Tennessee whiskey is almost exactly like bourbon except that it then goes through a step that is called the "Lincoln County Process".

The primary difference between Tennessee whiskey and bourbon is that the "white dog" or new make spirit is dripped through sugar maple charcoal to mellow the whiskey before being put in the barrel with Tennessee whiskey while bourbon goes directly from the still into the barrel. This dripping through charcoal is known as the "Lincoln County Process".The charcoal mellowing creates a softer, drier flavor profile than some bourbons, allowing vanilla and caramel flavors to predominate while also allowing more subtle flavors like the licorice notes to harmonize in the background.

Tennessee has only two whiskey distillers left, George Dickel and the iconic Jack Daniels.

Jack Daniel's produces four types of Tennessee whiskey.

  • Jack Daniel's Green Label is a soft, entry level whiskey with a cult following among Jack Daniel's enthusiasts. Green Label is only available in certain states in the U.S.
  • Jack Daniel's Black Label or Old No. 7 is the flagship Jack Daniel's brand. Soft, mellow and with a pronounced licorice flavor, Jack Daniel's Black Label is one of the top selling spirits in the world.
  • Gentleman Jack is a premium version of Jack Daniel's that is put through the "Lincoln County Process" twice to ensure the ultimate in smoothness.
  • Jack Daniel's Single Barrel is a full bodied 94 proof. Offering a more robust flavor palate than the more urbane Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel is the only single barrel Tennessee whiskey on the market today.
  • Dickel #8 is 80 proof (40% abv) and can be described as having big vanilla and caramel tones.
  • Dickel #12 is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv) and is more restrained and drier, with nice vanilla and oak overtones.
  • Dickel Barrel Select is a small batch Tennessee whiskey. 10 barrels at a time are blended to create this award winning Tennessee whiskey.