By Richard Thomas
When Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof made the popular cut for the Top Ten Single Barrel Bourbons last week, it renewed the classic bar debate of whether or not Jack Daniel’s is bourbon (nevermind that it made that list because our team, our outside experts and our own readers voted for it). Regardless of how the critics feel about Tennessee Whiskey, however, it is a category now enshrined in law and growing far beyond being the province of just Jack and George Dickel.
An important step in expanding the category was made this past July, when Nelson’s Greenbrier in Nashville released their first in-house whiskey, the dual expressions of Nelson’s First 108. Not only is this a micro-distillery Tennessee Whiskey, but it’s a wheated Tennessee Whiskey.
In 2015, Nelson’s laid down 108 30 gallon barrels of whiskey, in essence their first production run. Hence, First 108. Since then, all their new make has gone into 53 gallon barrels, so First 108 is very much a one-time release. It came in two forms: a 90 proof green label and a single barrel, cask strength white label.
In the glass, Nelson’s First 108 Green Label has a decidedly reddish amber appearance. The nose has a little heat, but around that is a buttery cinnamon toast core, drizzled with liquid caramel and accented by cedar shavings. I also picked up just a trace of plums.
On the palate, I initially picked up a current of spices and toast, but this renewal of the cinnamon toast was quickly burnt. It was surprisingly hot for a 90 proof whiskey, this likely indicative of the two years in 30 gallon barrels. I responded by adding an ice cube, and that fixed the heat, leaving a spicy, demerara sugar base with notes of cinnamon graham crackers and butterscotch. It’s not what one might expect if they were thinking “even mellower wheated bourbon,” that is for sure. Even with the ice cube, the finish was hot and peppery.
While I see some very interesting potential here, the simple truth is that a 90 proof whiskey with this kind of heat has a fundamental problem or two. Either it was aged too little or the 30 gallon barrels just didn’t suit it, or maybe my sample was mixed up and this green label is really the cask strength.
Nelson’s predicts they will have stocks of Green Label at the distillery until the end of the year, and those fetch $39.99 per 375 ml bottle.