On The Road: Discovering Dickel’s Forgotten Barrels

George Dickel in June announced a limited-edition 17-Year Old expression of its Tennessee Whisky. Just before the product became available for sale, the company hosted a group of journalists in Nashville. After experiencing some of Music City’s hot chicken, cool cocktails and great bands, we headed out to George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery in Tullahoma, TN, to learn more about the whisky.

Dickel, which uses the Scottish spelling of whisky, is owned by Diaego. Like the parent company’s two-year old Orphan Barrel project to locate nearly forgotten barrels of whiskey, the 17-year-old Dickel involves a discovery.

Master distiller Allisa Henley (pictured atop in the Dickel distillery) says she came across the whisky stash in George Dickel’s single-story barrel warehouses. She was actually looking for 9-year old whisky to use in the Hand Selected Barrel Program she’d launched in 2014, “and I saw a bunch of barrels stamped 98,” indicating the year, Henley says.

She thought that the whisky would have too much wood after 17 years, since the distillery typically doesn’t age more than 14 years. But after pulling a sample, Henley was pleasantly surprised at the taste.

“There’s a vanilla sweetness—almost like cake batter,” Henley notes. “The taste is rich in oak, but with not too much spiciness.”

Dickel bottled the 84 barrels of the 17-year old whisky, which yielded eight and a half cases. The product became available for sale at the distillery on June 7 for $75 a 375-ml. bottle. The company sold 637 bottles at the distillery just that day; the first buyer had driven from Telluride, CO.

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The old store at George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery, Tullahoma, TN.

The Dickel Deal

Who was George Dickel? A German immigrant and Nashville merchant, Dickel came to Tullahoma via the railway, Henley says. He met his wife there and ended up buying the Cascade Hollow Distillery in 1878.

After Dickel’s death in 1894, his wife’s family continued to run the distillery, which thrived until Prohibition came to Tennessee in 1910. The distillery was dismantled and moved to Kentucky where the whisky was produced as a medicinal spirit.

The Schenley company, which had acquired the Cascade brand/Dickel name and trademark after Prohibition, opened a new distillery in Cascade Hollow in 1958. Schenley distiller Ralph Dupps researched Dickel’s original recipes and techniques; the first batch of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky was bottled in 1964.

Dubbs recreated the distillery about a mile a way from the initial Cascade Hollow site. The current distillery uses the same water from limestone-rich Cascade Springs, Henley noted. “For distilleries to have good whiskey, you have to have good water.”

George Dickel’s signature mash bill is 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malted barley. After fermentation, the whisky is chilled to about 40 degrees and goes into a maple charcoal mellowing tank. It’s then aged in white American oak in a single-story warehouse.

The company is building its 13th warehouse, which will boost its capacity from 200,000 barrels to 250,000. Dickel makes a white (unaged) whisky; everything else is aged from five to 14 years, though Dickel’s Master of Whisky Gina Fossit points out that nine years seems to be the sweet spot for aging the brand.

Following the distillery tour, Dickel whiskies were paired with a four-course dinner, ending with the 17-year-old. Country music star and Tullahoma native Dustin Lynch performed a few of his hits after dinner. Nashville bartender Freddy Schwenk mixed up several Dickel cocktails for the event: the Cumberland River Humdinger, Tennessee Tuxedo and Tullahoma Porch Light.

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Country music star and Tullahoma native Dustin Lynch performs at the George Dickel distillery

Melissa Dowling is editor of Cheers Magazine, a sister publication of Beverage Dynamics.

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