George Dickel is a brand of Tennessee Whisky with a long and storied history, much like the history of Tennessee Whisky itself.
George Dickel was a German immigrant who owned a retail store in Nashville in the 1850s. At the time, there were many distilleries in Tennessee, and by the early 1860s his store began selling liquor. During the Civil War, Tennessee shut down distillery operations to provide more supplies to the troops.
After the Civil War, George Dickel formed a wholesale company with a couple partners to distribute Whisky. He used the Scottish spelling of Whisky (without the E) because he believed his products to be as smooth the finest Scotch. His company distributed whisky made at the Cascade Distillery in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma, and at one point Cascade Whisky was a top selling brand.
Then, in 1910, 10 years before the rest of the country, the state of Tennessee went in to Prohibition. At that point production of Cascade was moved to the famed Stitzel Distillery in Kentucky. During prohibition it was produced there as medicinal whisky. National Prohibition ended in 1933, but Tennessee would remain dry until 1939. During those years, the brand was sold to Schenly and produced at their OFC Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) as George Dickel Cascade Straight Kentucky Bourbon.
After a failed attempt to buy Jack Daniels, which had opened in the 1940s, Schenly decided to rebuild the old Cascade Distillery. They opened it in the 1950s as the George Dickel Distillery, making it only the second legal distillery in Tennessee at that time. A third legal distillery would not open until the 1990s. The first bottles of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky would be released in 1964. It was bottled under the Dickel name because Cascade Whisky had a perception as a value brand.
Through various ownership changes the brand is now owned by Diageo. Since 2010, the number of distilleries in Tennessee has increased to over 30, but George Dickel remains the number 2 producer, only behind Jack Daniels.
George Dickel focuses their distillation during the cold winter months to produce a more mellow whisky, promoting it as "Mellow as Moonlight." They also uniquely chill filter their whisky before running it through the Lincoln County Process. All of their Tennessee Whisky is made using a mash bill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% barley. Their Rye is distilled in Indiana at MGP, which is why it does not say Tennessee Whiskey on the label.
In 2018, Diageo hired Nicole Austin to be the General Manager and Master Distiller at Cascade Hollow, making her one of only a few female Master Distillers in the whisky world. This move immediately paid dividends, with her first Bottled in Bond release being named 2019 Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.
So what is Tennessee Whiskey? Tennessee Whiskey follows all the same rules as Bourbon:
- Made from 51% corn (at least)
- Distilled to no more than 160 proof
- Barrel entry no more than 125 proof
- Bottled at minimum 80 proof
- Aged in new charred oak barrels
- Produced and aged in Tennessee
- Goes through the Lincoln County Process (as of 2013). The Lincoln County Process is the process of filtering the whisky through charcoal (usually maple) before entering the barrel