Here in the High Country, we’re no strangers to women drinking whiskey. An equal number of each gender can be seen throwing back shots or sipping on Scotches at local bars on any given night of the week.
But in many places, that’s just not the case. Women tend to gravitate more toward clear spirits and wine, said Ana Kornegay, Jack Daniel’s field marketing manager, and most of the events that cater to women focus on those two areas. But whiskey is a joy that should be shared with both sexes, so Kornegay and Kristi McCoy, director of trade development for Apex Distributing, put together a series of Women & Whiskey dinners to teach women about the finer points of the Jack Daniel’s product line.
“In general, women don’t know a lot about whiskey,” McCoy said. “This event is about experimenting, tasting and learning.”
The two women recently brought their whiskey road show to Quandary Grille in Breckenridge for a night of eating, sipping and educating.
“This is my favorite part of my job,” Kornegay said.
Making the whiskey
Most whiskey follows the same four basic steps from start to finish, Kornegay said. It starts with mashing. Each company uses its own grain bill, or mix of grains that go into the liquor. For Jack Daniel’s, that’s 80 percent corn, 12 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley. The grain is mixed with water and heated, which allows enzymes to break down the starches in the grain to create sugars. This liquid is called wort, the same stuff you would create to make beer.
The next step is fermentation, where the solids are removed from the wort and the yeast is added. Just as each whiskey label has its own specific grain bill, most use a proprietary and highly protected yeast strain that’s unique to their product, Kornegay said. The type of yeast used is very important to the recipe, she said, as it adds a lot to the flavor of the finished liquor. The job of the yeast is to eat up the sugars in the liquid wort and convert them into alcohol.
Distillation separates the different compounds in the wort according to their boiling points and removes the impurities from the alcohol. The distillate is then aged in oak barrels, which add color and flavor, Kornegay said, before being proofed down with water to the alcohol level desired for bottling the whiskey. The water that is used to make Jack Daniel’s comes from Cave Spring Hollow, the same water source that has been used to make its whiskey since 1866.
What makes Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey unique is the addition of a fifth step: charcoal mellowing. During this step, the whiskey drips through 10-foot stacks of hard sugar maple charcoal before it is barreled, giving it a smooth, softened flavor, Kornegay said. This additional step is what distinguishes Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 from other products in its class and what allows it to use the moniker Tennessee whiskey.
Give it a taste
Learning about the many steps it takes to create these Jack Daniel’s products gives you more of an appreciation for the artisan process that is used, despite the large volume of whiskey the company cranks out every year. But all of the work is done for one simple reason: the taste.
Each of the four staple products that Jack Daniel’s produces has a different flavor profile and mouth feel. The first course of the dinner began with Gentleman Jack.
“Take a thimbleful and have it move through your mouth,” Kornegay said. “See how the whiskey plays on your taste buds.”
Gentleman Jack was created in 1988 and is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. The difference between it and the Old No. 7 brand is that Gentleman Jack takes a second pass through the charcoal mellowing filters, once before it is barreled and again before it’s bottled. The resulting super-smooth liquor is great for mixing in drinks such as Manhattans, Kornegay said.
Executive chefs Michael Contrado and Troy Skowrowski started the group of women on their culinary journey with Gentleman Jack tomato soup with mini grilled cheese sandwiches. Since Jack Daniel’s is an American institution, the aim of the culinary staff was to create a menu of traditional, American-themed dishes. The liquor added a kick to the soup, and all that could be heard for a few moments was the clinking of spoons on bowls as women alternated bites of soup with sips of the whiskey.
The second course featured Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey in a field green salad with onions, pickled radishes, cornbread croutons and a buttermilk dressing. The Old No. 7, as this whiskey is nicknamed, has been made from the same recipe and process for more than 150 years and is the No. 1 selling whiskey in the world, with distribution in 132 countries, Kornegay said. To make each batch, 200 different barrels are mixed for consistent flavor, she said.
From a single barrel
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel was the star of the third course, reduced into a glaze over duck breast with a wild mushroom bread pudding and root vegetable hash.
“Single Barrel is the most flavorful of the Jack Daniel’s family,” Kornegay said.
As the temperatures fluctuate in the highest-level stacks of the barrelhouse, the whiskey is pulled into and out of the walls of the barrel, Kornegay said, adding flavor from the charred oak. As its name implies, Single Barrel is bottled from a single barrel of whiskey instead of a blend from multiple barrels. Each barrel is hand selected for flavor, which is why this product carries a higher price tag.
The final course was a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Saranac ginger beer zabaglione with grilled peaches. Zabaglione is Italian custard typically made with egg and Marsalla wine, but the culinary crew substituted Jack Honey for a sweet treat. Jack Honey is a 70 proof liqueur made with Old No. 7 and provides a good introduction to the whiskey family for those who are a bit more hesitant, Kornegay said.
After the room full of women sipped and contemplated the last drops from their tasting glasses, they raised their dessert glasses to the chef and his crew, another new batch of converts to the wiles of whiskey.