With the single-barrel special release Coy Hill High Proof, Jack Daniel’s and its distilling team unleash more than a little wizardry on the whiskey world.
Chris Fletcher, master distiller at Jack Daniel’s
Chris Fletcher is a practical guy. As a trained chemist and master distiller for Jack Daniel’s, he’s not prone to hyperbole or pie-in-the-Tennessee-sky thinking. And yet, when asked to explain some of the astounding proofs his distilling team saw when pulling whiskey from a new single-barrel special release known as Coy Hill High Proof, he merely shakes his head and smiles.
“There’s some kind of magic going on up in those old barrel houses,” says Fletcher. “That’s the only way I can explain it.” Fletcher refers to houses 8 and 13 on Coy Hill, where the new release was aged in the top ricks, or buzzard’s nests, of the legendary structures. Proofs range from 135 up to 148, marking the first time the brand has offered Tennessee whiskey at this proof level. Fletcher, who has a long history in the distilling industry, also learned the business from his late grandfather, Frank “Frog” Bobo, the legendary Jack Daniel’s master distiller. We sat down with Fletcher to get his take on the latest release and how the brand continues to surprise whiskey aficionados.
I can tell you’re excited about this new release.
We caught lightning with this one. Our single-barrel proofs have become a cult following in the whiskey world. Keep in mind, the DNA of this is Old No. 7: a classic grain bill of 80% corn, 12% malted barley and 8% rye. We’re still only relying on that malted barley for conversion of starch to fermentable sugar in our mashing process. It would be so simple to cut corners and use commercial enzymes [for the process], but that breaks down starches in a different way and messes with the kinetics of the fermentation. The new release follows the same process, but it’s offered as a single-barrel version and at barrel strength.
The single-barrel special release Coy Hill High Proof
Please share what we’ll experience when tasting Coy Hill High Proof.
It’s a really special liquid. Given its strength—and I’ve tasted most of the barrels, from the 137 proof up to 148—people will be surprised by how approachable it is. It’s made to be sipped slowly, definitely neat, with perhaps a drop of water or a big, slow-melting ice cube. It gives an aroma of charred oak and dark brown sugar and retains a great balance of flavors with hints of baking spices and a finish of toffee, smoke and rich leather.
The special magic in those old barrel houses—what gives?
I talk to some of the warehouse crew, and they tell me the barrel houses up on these hillsides have a different smell as soon as you walk in the door. As much as we can control being in these extreme barrel-house locations, Mother Nature is always going to win. We don’t cycle houses here, and we don’t heat them up in the winter. We’re not trying to artificially push the extraction and evaporation, and we’re not trying to maximize or speed up the process. We’re just letting it go. I wasn’t consciously using the word magic when talking to you, but I don’t know if we can ever produce something like this again—it’s really a unique product.
It’s pretty clear you love your gig.
I really do. It’s a special thing to come into work every day. I’m sitting in my grandfather’s old office at his old desk. It’s also special to be surrounded by the history of Jack Daniel’s and to be part of a team making whiskey that folks love all over the world. What a special time to be making whiskey, especially the way we do.