By Richard Thomas
With the arguable exception of what might come out of its private barrel program, George Dickel’s Barrel Select Whisky is its top of the line. Each year, Master Distiller John Lunn chooses about 10 prime barrels of 10 to 12 year old Tennessee whiskey, and then uses them to make a small batch.
With that care and selection, Dickel Barrel Select puts the best face on what Tennessee whiskey means down in Cascade Hollow: a high corn mash bill; drip filtration through even more sugar maple charcoal than Jack Daniel’s uses; chill filtration prior to aging, and at temperatures that are cold, but not freezing. This expression was started to commemorate the resumption of production at Cascade Hollow in 2003, and has been going strong ever since.
Dickel is often perceived as Tennessee’s number two whiskey, but in my view it’s second best only in terms of production, distribution, and brand recognition. From a business point of view, those are critical issues, but it’s what in the bottle that counts with whiskey-lovers. If the byword of Tennessee whiskey is supposed to be “mellow,” then Dickel trumps Daniel’s every time, and Barrel Select is a good example of why.
Barrel Select comes in a rectangular glass bottle, departing from the typical Dickel style, and is topped by a solid wood and cork stopper. The presentation is a fine one, and the contents are bottled at 86 proof (43% abv). The coloring is a lustery middle amber.
The nose is thick with corn and honey sweetness, with a hefty dollop of vanilla, yet remains subtle and restrained. The almost syrupy sweet side leaves plenty of room to pick up on the leathery age, and the notes of floral citrus, and cinnamon and ginger spice.
The flavor is more subdued than the even a nose like that suggests. Barrel Select has corn and vanilla sweetness balanced against delicate woodiness, with a moderately spicy kick at the end. Despite that last part, this is still a very mellow whiskey, a point that plays out in the finish. The wind-down is light, only slightly warm, and just a little spicy, but despite the light touch it just lingers on and on.
Those looking for big, bold flavors should look elsewhere, but drinkers seeking mellow restraint and balance should love this stuff. Compared to its supposed peer, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, the George Dickel Barrel Select is many times over a more charming companion for your sipping whiskey occasions.
In Tennessee, I saw Barrel Select priced as low as $38, but as a rule $40 to $45 is the norm.
George Dickel Barrel Select won two golds at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a 95 rating from the Wine Enthusiast, and a 92 rating from the Beverage Tasting Institute.