A Private Tasting with Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s

Editor’s note: We’re republishing this article from 1997 because the old copy still gets so much reader traffic. Mr. Bedford died in August 2009.

A Private Tasting with Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s

By Kevin R. Kosar

I stood alone on the sixth floor of the Marriot Marquis next to the brass keydrop. Travelers from around the world swarmed about me, checking in and out. Outside cold winds howled through Times Square. If ever there was a day to be tasting whiskey…

A week earlier an unbelievable email had popped up on my screen- an invite to have a private tasting with Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s. What better way to learn about Jack Daniel’s two super premium whiskeys, Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey?

Out of the horde he stepped, the man whose photo I had seen so many times before. A kindly PR fellow, Clay Dye, from Dye Van Mol & Lawrence, introduced us and took us to a quiet area in an adjoining restaurant, where we sat and got the lowdown on Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey.

Most of AlcoholReviews.com’s readers are likely familiar with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Black Labeled Whiskey. Our readers are also likely aware of the difference between Tennessee whiskey, which Jack Daniel’s is, and Bourbon. In terms of the production process, whereas Bourbon is distilled and then sent to barrel to age, Tennessee whiskey is distilled then filtered, then aged in barrels. In the case of Old No. 7, the whiskey is run through 10 feet of charcoal made from hard sugar maple before being aged in charred white oak barrels, which are, Mr. Bedford noted, used just once.

Mr. Bedford impressed the difference between Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey on me by allowing me to sample raw spirit just after distillation (call it proto-Bourbon), and raw spirit that had been charcoal mellowed (call it proto-Tennessee whiskey). The difference was obvious, what was once fine white lightning was now much softer.

Gentleman Jack (80 proof) takes the Jack Daniel’s formula for Tennessee whiskey and incorporates and extra step- a second charcoal mellowing AFTER it has been aged. The result? Well, Old No. 7 is fair copper and has a fireball candy spiciness on the tongue, along with a nutty taste. Gentleman Jack is much smoother, much softer, exhibiting more barrel and charcoal flavors, along with faint currant and hazelnut notes. It’s quite good. (Rating****)

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel is an intriguing product. Unlike Old No. 7 or Gentleman Jack, each bottle of Single Barrel comes from (you got it) a single barrel, chosen by Mr. Bedford for its excellence. So that makes the whiskey in a bottle of Old No. 7 or Gentleman Jack a blends? “No,” Mr. Bedford rightly noted, “They are intermingled whiskeys. Blends usually are whiskeys that are made from the products of many distilleries. We don’t do that. Our No. 7 and Gentleman Jack are made only from Jack Daniel’s whiskeys, intermingled to create a consistent taste and quality.”

The Single Barrel (94 proof) that I sampled was much darker than the other JD whiskeys. Six to seven year in the barrel left it a deep copper-red color. In the mouth it was much more intense, and far fuller in flavor. The grain, caramel, vanilla and charcoal flavors were wonderfully balanced, and it was clearly the best of the the three. Bedford’s thirty-some years at Jack Daniel’s was born out by the quality of this whiskey. (Rating ****)

Jimmy Bedford and Kevin R. Kosar. Credit: AlcoholReviews.com.

Before our time together ended, Mr. Bedford mentioned that in addition to buying bottles of JD Single Barrel, folks could also purchase a whole barrel. For about $8500 you could stop by JD’s Distillery, and go into their storehouse to pick a barrel. The barrel would then be drained into about 240 fifth bottles, and shipped to you along with a customized sticker and a brass plaque and framed certificate of ownership. When I asked how many folks took advantage of this opportunity, Bedford smiled. “Well, so far we’ve sold about 600 barrels. We’ve even had some repeat customers.”


An Interview with Bill Owens, Editor of The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits

Source: Amazon.com

Bill Owens teamed up with Alan Dikty to produce The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits (Quarry Books, 2009).

It is a very handsome book loaded with beautiful photographs and illustrations.  It provides the reader with an introduction to distilling and how spirits differ.  The book also gives the reader a feel for the burgeoning small distilling movement in the U.S.

Bill is the founder of the American Distilling Institute, the mission of which is “to disseminate essential information regarding the art and science of distilling.”

We managed to nab Bill for a short interview.  He had just returned from Europe, where he spent three months visiting artisanal distilleries and cooperages.  Click here to listen to the interview.

And click here to take a closer look at The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits.


An Interview with Todd Kliman, Author of The Wild Vine

In late October, we managed to get Todd Kliman on the phone. Kliman is the Food and Wine Editor of The Washingtonian magazine, and the winner of a James Beard Award.

He is a busy man, and we were lucky to land him to discuss his new book, The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine (New York: Clarkson-Potter, 2010).

This is not a mere wine book, one that blah-blahs ad nauseum about a grape and then launches into a series of winery reviews and tasting notes.

No, it is a narrative, and a multilayered one at that. Kliman’s book mixes history and travelogue.  It features a trans-sexual (really!) and a little-remembered grape (the Norton) that once was drunk widely in America.  Its motifs include David vs. Goliath, insiders vs. outsiders, the old world versus the new, treasures lost and found, and the quest for authenticity.

We quite enjoyed it; it is a fun read, and we encourage anyone who enjoys a good yarn to get a copy.

Please click here to listen to Todd Kliman discuss The Wild Vine and the Norton grape.  (Length 64 minutes.)

Readers who wish to learn more about Kliman should surf to http://toddkliman.com/.

Those who wish to hear from Jenny McCloud, the proprietor of Chrysalis, a Norton-producing Virginia vineyard, should watch this video.

Finally, anyone who wants to know more about Missouri’s Norton wines can get started by surfing to http://www.missouriwinecountry.com/wines/varietal.php?grapeID=8.


An Interview with Oz Clarke, Wine Writer

Oz Clarke. Source: Gary Moyes/Pavilion Books.

In June, Oz Clarke, the world-renown wine writer, visited the U.S. The indefatigable Clarke has not one, not two, but three new wine books on the shelves this year.

Clarke kindly pinched AlcoholReviews.com into his busy schedule.  We met at Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar, which is located just off DuPont Circle in Washington, DC. Clarke was  a bit disappointed that Urbana didn’t feature local wines, but he quickly located a Virginia red and a couple of whites (from Italy and Sicily) for us to try. They were, respectively, good, good, and excellent. That’s Clarke for you.

The ebullient Clarke entertained AlcoholReviews.com editor Kevin R. Kosar for over a half an hour. He discussed what drew him into the world of wine (“girls!”), what keeps him so fascinated with wine (in short, its dynamism and Clarke’s restless passion for exploration), and what the three books are about (plenty!).

Please click here to listen to the 30+ minute interview, and below are links to Clarke’s new books.  (Note: The interview is a 30+ megabyte file, so it may be a little slow to load.  Rest assured, your patience will be rewarded.) Those wishing to learn more about Clarke should surf to http://www.ozclarke.com/.

New Books by Oz Clarke:

Grapes and Wine: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours

Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide 2010

Let Me Tell You About Wine


12/2009 An Interview with Bill Samuels, Jr., Maker’s Mark Distillery

Bill Samuels, Jr., head of the Maker’s Mark Distillery of Loretto, Kentucky, was in Washington, DC today. Bill kindly made some time to sit with me at the Hawk n’ Dove bar, a beloved watering hole just a couple blocks from Congress. Bill then entertained about a dozen friends of yours truly.

Bill has been at the helm of the distillery for 35 years. Oh how times have changed. Maker’s Mark has boomed, going from 60-some thousand cases per year to over 900,000. We discussed the changes that happened at Maker’s Mark, and in the Bourbon industry generally.

You can listen to our chat by clicking here. Fair warning—it’s 20 minutes long and therefore a rather hefty 18 megabyte file, so your download may take a little time.