We already know that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey has a long history with music. There’s the stuff they’re proud of (Frank Sinatra declaring the drink the “nectar of the gods” back in the ’50s, sponsoring tours by country artists like the Zac Brown Band) and stuff they’d probably rather distance themselves from (the excessive JD drinking of all of those ’80s hair metal bands), but for decades the whiskey (which is NOT bourbon, by the way, since it’s made in Tennessee rather than Kentucky and goes through a charcoal filtering process) has been tied to all sorts of musical genres. With brown liquor becoming increasingly popular with more and more people, Jack Daniel’s is going through a bit of a renaissance: the classic Old No. 7 Brand is still a favourite, especially when mixed with Coke (the company estimates that at least half of the No. 7 they sell ends up being married to cola) and the brand seems to constantly be expanding its product line to appeal to new customers.
Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett was in town during Stampede week to talk about the history of the company (which is fascinating, by the way — did you know that Jack Daniel himself died after contracting a blood infection as the result of breaking his toe after kicking a tricky safe that he couldn’t get open?), promoting his new cinnamon-flavoured Tennessee Fire blend. A big fan of music himself, Arnett told me a few nice tidbits about Jack Daniel’s connection to music.
“Our founder Jack Daniel, in addition to whiskey, he brought the first instruments into Lynchburg and created a band,” Arnett says. “Those were his two loves: he loved whiskey and he loved music. And this was before there was any radio, the only way to hear music was to hear it live. So he bought the instruments and he got the people to play them because he wanted the people of Lynchburg to appreciate music the same way that he did. Jack was world-traveled — he was leaving Lynchburg and seeing all of these things and hearing music and was more cultured than a lot of the people in Lynchburg at the time. So that’s a foundation principle for Jack Daniel’s, we continue to support a lot of music stages.”
You may remember that Jack Daniel’s released a special Frank Sinatra signature edition a few years ago (Arnett says that after Sinatra made that “nectar of the gods” declaration in 1955, sales doubled and it took 25 years for the company to expand their production to the point where they could keep up with the demand), and he also told me that he’s working on a second Frank Sinatra release for later this year to mark what would have been the singer’s 100th birthday. This one will be a little different than the first: only 100 barrels will be produced, making it very limited edition, the swanky packaging will include never-before-released music, and, most importantly, this time the Sinatra family actually helped choose the whiskey blend.
“This time his children were involved,” Arnett says. “I flew to Los Angeles and went to Tina Sinatra’s home and sat at her dinner table with the family. I presented several different things that we could do with this round and I wanted them to pick it. It’s a different proof and has a different structure than the last one we did, based on their feedback. They weren’t whiskey lovers when we first met three or four years ago to do the first Sinatra select, but they are now.”
So, let’s have a drink, shall we? I think the obvious summer Jack Daniel’s cocktail would be a nice big glass of Lynchburg Lemonade, but I wanted something with a strong music connection and to work with ingredients I had on hand, so I went with a little something recommended by At The Drive-In’s Jim Ward, which he calls a Kickstand. All it is is 1.5 ounces of American whiskey (Jim uses Bourbon, but it’s just as nice with Tennessee whiskey), half an ounce of Fernet Branca (which I’ve recently become obsessed with — digestifs are on their way in, I swear), and a splash of grenadine. Put everything in a shaker with ice, shake it up, strain into a short glass and garnish with a cherry. Drink while listening to this: