Jack Daniel’s hit a grand slam home run with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which not only helped explode the flavored whiskey category, but managed to draw consumers to the core Jack Daniel’s brand. Three years later, Jack Daniel’s is back with another major flavored whiskey release, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire. With the huge success that Jack Daniel’s had with Tennessee Honey, it’s kind of strange that the brand waited three full years before releasing another major flavor. Jack Daniel’s did bring out a seasonal offering, Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee Cider, but that was more of an import of an international offering than a new flavor innovation. Perhaps more peculiar is the fact that Jack Daniel’s is test marketing Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire in only three markets to start: Tennessee, Oregon, and Pennsylvania (its home state and two “control” states). It begs the question, why now? And why this flavor? The answer to these questions could very well be the very active acquisition environment that surrounds the spirits industry. With Suntory snatching up Jim Beam, Stoli leaving William Grant and Sons, and both Diageo and Pernod Ricard on the hunt, this new Jack Daniel’s product may just be the thing that Brown Forman is looking for to show their value and make them even more attractive for sale.
Prior to the release of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, from a sales point of view, the benchmark flavored whiskey was Sazerac’s Fireball Whiskey. Fireball was the same kind of runaway hit that Tennessee Honey was and helped firmly establish the flavored whiskey market. For all intents and purposes, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire is a direct assault on Fireball’s turf and seems custom built from the ground up to quickly take over that market share. Unlike Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which seemed to be more of a gateway drug to Jack Daniel’s core offerings, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire seems to be much more about marketshare and growth for the company than providing another conduit to draw new customers to the core brand.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire (35% ABV / 70 Proof, $22) – labeled as a “cinnamon liqueur blended with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey”, Tennessee Fire is first and foremost a cinnamon liqueur. The nose on Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire is sweet candy red hots, atomic fireballs, and Hot Tamales – pure candy in a glass. Underneath the overwhelming candied cinnamon is vanilla and sugar. It takes a herculean effort for the nose to get through all that to any semblance of the whiskey below, which only reads like a faint oak note. It’s lower than a whisper and most people will never be able to get to it. The entry for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire is sweet and spicy. The candied cinnamon from the nose is right there on the palate. As with the nose, there’s just not much whiskey flavor to be found in the opening. Things get spicier in the midpalate like it would be sucking on an atomic fireball candy. The midpalate is also very sweet, emphasizing just how much sugar and sweeteners have been added to the mix. It’s at the end of the midpalate that we get any sense that there’s whiskey in this liqueur, and here it reads as spicy heat more than any other flavor. It’s like getting a text message from a friend in a sports arena – you know they’re there somewhere, but you’ll be damned if you’re able to spot them. The finish is long and very sweet with the candied cinnamon gently fading on the palate.
How much you’ll enjoy Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire greatly depends on what you are looking for from it. If you are looking for any form of balanced flavored whiskey where you can actually taste the base whiskey, like Knob Creek Smoked Maple, you’ll be seriously disappointed in Tennessee Fire. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire might just as well be labeled “cinnamon liqueur” than anything else. However, if you are looking for a candied sweet shooting liqueur that’s more “masculine” in brand than say Pinnacle Gummy or Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow, then you might really enjoy the candied spice of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire. The upside of Tennessee Fire is that the candied cinnamon flavors are well done and there’s no unpleasant lingering aftertaste. Tennessee Fire is eminently shootable but also wickedly sweet.
With Suntory’s extremely high valuation of Jim Beam, there may not be a better market for the sale of a spirits company than now. Brown Forman, almost more than any other company, understands value, and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire is an extremely savvy move by the company to demonstrate in just a few markets the potential of the Jack Daniel’s brand. There’s a reason why Jack Daniel’s didn’t bring out Tennessee Fire sooner: it’s not a real match for their core brand. While they will do extremely well with it, it doesn’t serve the core mission of Jack Daniel’s, and that is to get people to drink Old No 7. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. Tennessee Fire will surely be red hot and sell extremely well for the company, but it’s not going to turn anyone on to Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. It’s just going to immolate Fireball and make Brown Forman even more attractive for sale.