I recently had the pleasure of a VIP tour of Cascade Hollow, with a small handful of other whisky writers. Cascade Hollow (or is that Holler?) is where George Dickel’s whisky is born and raised. It’s a beautiful area, quiet and peaceful. The distillery and its rickhouses are tucked away in Tullahoma, about 90 minutes from Nashville.
While George Dickel’s most famous accomplishment is the whisky that’s still made today (get it, still made? OK, fine, I’ll keep going), he was a business man first, with his hand in other ventures. Tullahoma drew him in, with its clear, spring-fed water and scenic beauty. It doesn’t look like much has changed in 150 years. Even the visitor’s center is housed in one of the original buildings. I can see sitting on that front porch, sipping whisky and listening to the stream that runs right past the distillery.
Allisa Henley has been working at the distillery for more than ten years. They initially asked her to design a visitor’s experience, but her natural curiosity led her to the distillery not long after. Born and raised in Tullahoma, she didn’t have any formal distilling experience, but that was soon remedied. The George Dickel tagline, “handmade the hard way,” definitely applies to Allisa, learning from the ground up at one of the country’s original distilleries.
While you might think that the Dickel line-up isn’t very deep, with only 3 main products, along with a barrel select version (we’ll get to rye in a minute), I’m pretty sure there’s a whisky here for everyone’s taste. #1 is the clear, unaged spirit, that is very mellow and like eating sweet corn – and it should be, since it’s 84% corn. There are a ton of white spirits on the market right now, but most have an unpleasant bite and burn. You won’t find that here. #1 can be sipped neat, or I’ve substituted it in cocktails for vodka or gin.
You might also think that #8 and #12 refer to the respective ages of the whisky in the bottle, but that’s not the case. Lost to the past, there are no records that refer to the numbering system. Did George have #8 because a certain other Tennessee whiskey had #7? So then what happened to 9, 10, and 11? No one knows for sure, but what you need to know for sure is that #8 is aged 5-7 years, and #12 is 7-9 years. You’re welcome, for that bit of bar trivia.
Standing out from the other labels, in its shiny green coat, is Dickel’s rye whisky. It’s a 95% rye mashbill, that’s not made in Tullahoma, but is charcoal-mellowed like the rest of its Dickel brothers. The distillery sends the charcoal to meet up with the rye (from MGP in Indiana), which is what makes the taste of this rye just a bit different. And to me, a lot better. I’m not overly fond of Bulleit’s rye, which is the same basic hooch as Dickel, I think it’s too harsh. But put through the sugar maple charcoal so it can be properly called Tennessee whisky, I think the rye in the green coat is much better than its step-siblings, especially for its relatively modest price point (around $22-25).
Last but not least are Dickel’s barrel select bottles. Ah, deliciousness in a bottle. Aged for a minimum of 10 years, these bottles contain the hooch blended from 10-15 barrels. Allisa talked about the sweet spot of whisky aging, when the liquid reaches its peak flavor profile (after that, you get more of the wood flavor – super old doesn’t always mean better, it just means older). The barrels selected for these bottles are at the top of their game, so if your budget allows, I’d definitely suggest adding this one to your bar. #8 and #12 are good, every day bottles (and are great in cocktails, too – don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t mix this stuff, drink any way you please). But the barrel select is more of a special occasion drink, sipped neat or maybe with a single ice cube. *insert Homer Simpson sound here* Mmmmm, whisky.
Working side by side with guys named Peanut and Big Daddy, Allisa makes some tasty hooch. It’s also a very consistent product, and the price doesn’t hurt your wallet. Enough reading – go enjoy some George Dickel whisky! Cheers!
Article by: Jeanne Runkle
Photos: Reese Lloyd