By Jason Heaton
on 5.3.11

When Jack Daniel’s invites you to Las Vegas to try their latest whiskey, you don’t say no. Other than Lynchburg, Tennessee, we can’t think of a more appropriate venue for the launch of a new variety of America’s most iconic spirit. So this intrepid reporter, camera in tow, showed up at the MGM Grand megaplex in Sin City to get the scoop on Jack’s newest concoction – Tennessee Honey. GP got a sneak peek at this blended spirit several weeks ago and it surprised us with its drinkability and smoothness. Now we’d get the chance to try it in some cocktails and side by side with the more established varieties, Old No. 7, Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel.

Things got started early with a welcome reception in the $5,000 per night SkyLofts atop the MGM. This two story penthouse flat was bigger than most suburban homes and packed amenities like a private rooftop hot tub, pool table and private workout room. Typically reserved for rap stars and high rollers, for one night the SkyLofts played host to a group of decidedly less flush journalists from the print world and blogosphere. We were a diverse crowd, with writers from Playboy to Metromix to Las Vegas Woman all living the high life for a night.

Cocktails were expertly mashed, muddled, shaken and stirred, all highlighting the versatility of Jack’s Tennessee Honey. Favorites seemed to be the Honey Smash, which added lemon and mint for what amounted to a perfect summer drink. The Honey and Ginger was a simple mix of Tennessee Honey and ginger ale that added some zing and tempered the sweetness. Of course, straight shots were only an arm’s length away all night and, slightly chilled, perished any notions that this was merely mixed drink fodder or a girly drink.

After getting us warmed up, Jack Daniel’s Master Taster (rough job), Jeff Norman led us through a tasting of each of the Jack Daniel’s offerings. We learned that the distillery doesn’t age its whiskies as much as it “matures” them and deciding when they’re ready for bottling is Norman’s job. While most people are familiar with the black label Old No. 7, with its sweet nose and taste, the Single Barrel was perhaps the finest one for sipping, with a decidedly Scotch-like smokiness. Of course, what makes a Tennessee whiskey what it is, is the charcoal filtering and maturing in charred oak barrels and all are worthy sipping whiskies on their own.

The Tennessee Honey is, as the name suggests Old No. 7 blended with a honey-infused liqueur. Jeff Norman stressed that the honey used is indeed from Tennessee and we had a chance to taste the new Jack side by side next to Jim Beam’s Red Stag and Wild Turkey’s American Honey. The differences couldn’t have been starker. While making for good mixers, the competitors were far too sweet for straight sipping while the Tennessee Honey was surprisingly mellow.

Bleary-eyed but happy, our group was led to Craftsteak, celebrity chef, Tom Colicchio’s famous restaurant for a family style meal that would make any carnivore proud. Naturally, the wine and whiskey flowed and though it was already past most of our time zone impaired bedtimes, we stumbled into Tabu nightclub for – you guessed it – more Jack. Entertainment was provided by Alizma, blonde triplets in shimmering body hugging dresses, who played violins and sang, backed by a DJ. Only in Vegas.

The next morning’s activities started mercifully late and, after gallons of water and a healthy room service breakfast, I joined my compatriots back at Tabu to watch the mixology contest, which pitted top Vegas bartenders (sorry, mixologists) concoct cocktails made with Tennessee Honey. The randomly chosen judges bravely bellied up to the bar for their duty while the rest of us reclined in dark corners and sipped our cocktails dutifully. An emcee gamely did the play by play for the event, which was eventually won by a mixologist from Caesar’s Palace who brought along his own bar and liquor luge carved out of a single block of ice.

Mid-afternoon, it was dangerously close to the time when my carriage would turn back into a pumpkin and I waded through the cigarette smoke and desperation of the casino to emerge, squinting, in the sunlight. My hired car rolled up to take me to the airport and as I stepped in, the driver asked how my visit was. “Sweet,” I said, “very sweet.” Like Tennessee Honey.

More Info at jackdaniels.com

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