By Father John Rayls
George Dickel strongly desired a smooth whisky experience, and believed wintertime distilling helped to provide that result. It’s also why the modern George Dickel Distillery added the extra step of chilling the new make whisky before sending it onto the Lincoln County Process. This distinguishes Dickel from their larger rivals in Tennessee Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s.
“Mellow as Moonlight” was an early marketing phrase often used to describe the Dickel experience. The Cascade Hollow Distillery opened in 1878, but Tennessee’s local version of Prohibition shut it down in 1909, long before the nationwide booze ban. It wasn’t until 1958 that a new distillery opened just down the road from the original one (you can still see the brick rubble from the original, in the woods down the road) and took the name of George Dickel.
Dickel whisky revolves around a mashbill of 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malted barley, and they manipulate the proof and the age to get the different flavor profiles. It’s another aspect in common with their rivals in Lynchburg, who also rely very heavily on a single mashbill.
This 17 year old version was reportedly the outcome of an accidental discovery of some very old barrels by Allisa Henley, the then-Distiller at Dickel who recently left to work at Popcorn Sutton. The yield from those barrels was bottled at 87 proof (43.5% ABV).
George Dickel Reserve 17 Year Old presents an inviting picture in the glass. The color is of a medium brown/bronze appearance with brass highlights. The beautiful legs present themselves immediately and they are long and persistent.
The whisky has a somewhat aggressive nose, but one that’s very interesting, with additional light notes of sweet corn and vanilla, yet with oak that is ever present. The taste is almost entirely a mid-palette experience that stays subtle throughout. There is a soft and smooth vanilla and caramel flavor on the tongue. However, the finish comes on more boldly with a peppery spice and, again, the oak is always hanging around. The finish is medium and adds a nice touch to the Dickel experience.
Here comes the bad news. George Dickel Reserve 17 Year Old is being sold only in the 375 ml bottle for $75.00. Moreover, this aged whisky will only be available at the visitor center of the distillery and a few other Tennessee whiskey outlets with strong whiskey programs, so means Tennessee will be the only place to get your hands on a bottle.
In fairness, and despite the relatively high price tag and difficulty most will have in snagging a bottle, I think fans of the Tennessee Whiskey style may find this aged Dickel version right in their “wheel-house” and worth their while.