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Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

So the folks at Dickel have been sending me stuff. First there was a video. Then came a box delivered via Fedex. And inside that cardboard box was a wooden box. And inside that wooden box was a glass bottle. And inside that bottle was whisky. “Hand selected,” single-barrel, 9 year old George Dickel Tennessee whisky. In fact, this bottle was selected by the chap in the aforementioned video, one Doug Kragel, Dickel brand ambassador

It’s important to point out that this Dickel is different than the “Barrel Select” version (which I’ve previously reviewed). Both come from the single Dickel mash bill. Both are charcoal and chill filtered. The differences are the proof, the age, and the fact that one is small-batch bottled and the other single-barrel bottled.

The Barrel Select comes in at 86 proof. The Hand Selected rocks a 103. Barrel Select is 10 to 12 years old, though no age statement. Hand Selected is stated 9 years old (there is also a 14 year old offering, which ups the proof to 106 to boot). Barrel Select is a small batch of approximately 10-12 barrels. Hand Selected is a true single barrel.  And, while Barrel Select can be found pretty widely, Hand Selected is only available at stores that choose to purchase a whole single barrel (bottled at 103 proof) for their customers.

Dickel started this program last year to a good bit of fanfare, and it seems they’re giving the hand selected barrel program another push now. It’s good to see parent company Diageo investing some time and effort in bringing Dickel back into the limelight, at least a little bit, since it’s been somewhat of a neglected brand amidst the whiskey boom. Anything else you need to know? Oh yeah, how does it taste?

Dickel Barrel Select WhiskyGeorge Dickel Hand Selected Barrel Sour Mash Whisky, Aged 9 Years
Barrel #137
103 Proof
Approx. $45 Retail
Tasting Dates: November 1-9, 2014

Lovely deep copper color. I’ve got to admit that I was turned off by the nose at first – neat, in a Glencairn glass (the little tulip shaped glasses that lots of whiskey drinkers prefer for sipping neat), I got a lot of toasty sawdust, and the alcohol seemed on the aggressive, petrol side. It came across as anything but Dickel’s trademark “mellow.” I switched to a rocks glass, still neat, and the extra air worked some wonders. Ahhh, there’s the brown sugar, there’s the caramel buttered popcorn , there’s the ripe fruit, there’s a roasted walnut note. The toasted oak is still there, but very much in the background now. So much better. And you thought the glass didn’t matter…. (or if you thought the glass mattered, you probably would have assumed that the Glencairn would be the better glass – I know I did).

Dickel GlencairnSipping neat, the 103 proof comes through well – plenty of vanilla and cinnamon (though not overly so), a firm backbone of dark wood with candied walnuts, and a long warm finish with a touch of astringency weaving in and out. I’m not wowed, especially with that blemish on the finish.

A bit of water though mellows out the nose, and mellows out the wood on the palate as well. I actually prefer this with the water, as the dilution delivers a bit more balance, more peachy fruit, more easy drinking in a good way (easy drinking is not often my preferred descriptor, but here it plays well).  Ditto with a cube of ice – which adds a more lush mouthful and brings out the butterscotch notes. I’m thinking ice is the way to go. Very nice.

Funny enough, I actually prefer the Barrel Select to this particular Hand Selected Barrel, despite the lower proof on the Barrel Select. Here, at the higher proof, I think it needs a bit of ice or water to fully coax out the flavors. Of course, with a single barrel offering, every barrel will differ somewhat. Talk to your local bottle shop and ask them what they were going for in their hand selected barrel. If it sounds good, take a shot – this is nice whisky at a nice price. My verdict? *Good Stuff.

With that, I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of Dickel in (and next to) a box – handmade the hard way:

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck
Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Dickel.
The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

Dickel White Corn Whisky

One is young and clear as glass. One is old(er) and soft tan leather. Both are Dickel Whisky. When the fine folks from George Dickel offered to share a sample of their new “White No. 1 Corn Whisky,” I asked that they (please) also send along a sample of their roughly ten year old Dickel Barrel Select so I could compare the two side by side. I’ve long been a fan of Dickel – especially after visiting their bucolic distillery in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee. And I like the fact that they tend to do things a little differently than most others out there – like calling their whiskey “whisky,” or actually doing something unique (charcoal filtering) with the sourced rye from Indiana that so many others are just bottling and branding as their own.

Like the Dickel rye, the Dickel White No. 1 also gets the Dickel charcoal treatment, setting it apart from other white whiskeys (AKA moonshine), at least in some small way. And the Dickel White No. 1 is the exact same stuff that ends up in Dickel No. 8 and Dickel No. 12 and the Dickel Barrel Select. There’s one whisky mashbill being made in Cascade Hollow – 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% barley – and that’s what ends up in all the Dickel bottles except for that “Dickel” rye. (In case you weren’t counting, that’s nine Dickels so far in this paragraph. Make that ten.)

You know what else is different about the Dickel White No. 1? It’s 91 proof, vs. the  80 proof that shows up in other big brand white whiskey (see Jim Beam’s Jacob’s Ghost). Also, it’s priced rather well at $22, vs. other ridiculously premium-priced unaged whiskey  out there (see Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye – $50!???) .

So, how does the Dickel White No. 1 taste? Can you actually see the family resemblance between this youngster and its elder, the Barrel Select? On with the tasting notes and review.

Dickel White Whisky

George Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1
91 Proof
Approx. $22 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff*

Like I said, this stuff is clear as glass, though clearly thicker than water. The nose is clean, but packs a ton of grain – you get the popcorn first, then a Sugar Smacks cereal rush, with a toasty malt depth in the background and an elusive bit of green corn silk and husk. It’s actually quite nice, though a far departure from the sweet heat that this will turn to after years in a barrel.

Sipping neat, the corn/grain character continues, with some alcohol heat building through a long, lip-tingly finish. It makes for pleasant sipping, though I think it may be better served as the basis for creative cocktail making. Ice brings out some lush thickness in the whisky, but also seems to bring out a bit of that charcoal effect. It’s darn good for a white whiskey, and if I were more of a fan of white whiskey in general, I’d probably rate this higher – I just prefer the older stuff.

Dickel Barrel SelectGeorge Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky
86 Proof
Approx. $40 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

Dickel’s Barrel Select is a small batch of 10-12 barrels at a time, and 10-12 years old (though not with an age statement on the bottle). The nose here is beautiful, mellow, and balanced – you may get a tiny bit of that corn grain, but it’s well overshadowed (nicely so) by light brown sugar and lush tropical fruit and warm leather and toasty light wood. There’s so much textbook American whiskey stuff going on here, without any overbearing oak, I’m sorry I haven’t been drinking more of this over the years.

Sipping neat, the first thing that stands out is the fruity character – ripe peach, simmering in a skillet with butter and brown sugar. It’s rich and full, and cinnamon spice starts to come out after a few seconds, along with warm vanilla. There’s a bit of green woodiness in the middle that knocks it down a tiny notch in my book, but the finish is long and pleasantly cinnamon hot. Damn good stuff, very nice for the price, worthy of a go for any bourbon fan.

A cube of ice brings out the fruitiness on the nose even more, but also some syrupy sweetness. It dials down the green wood in the middle, but also slightly dulls the warm spice and vanilla. Again, I’d go neat rather than subject this one to ice, but that’s just personal preference.

Do I see the family resemblance? Not so much, to tell you the truth. One is young and corn focused, the other achieves a beautiful balance of grain and oak and time. I appreciate that both the young Dickel and the elder Dickel have a smoothness to them that doesn’t detract from the flavor – so maybe that’s the Dickel profile, the impact of the charcoal mellowing. In any case, both are Tennessee goodness in a bottle. After all, Dickel’s for drinking.

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Both tasting samples were provided by George Dickel.

Dickel’s For Drinking: A Visit To George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery

Dickel’s For Drinking: A Visit To George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery

George Dickel is like Jack Daniel’s less popular little brother. Quieter, calmer, a bit more likely to sit back and watch things develop rather than to seek the spotlight. Contrasting a visit to George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery to the choreographed show that is a Jack Daniel’s visit says everything about the distinctions between these two Tennessee titans of whisk(e)y. Jack is an entertainer, Dickel is a quiet companion.

Cascade Hollow sits off a rural road outside Tullahoma, Tennessee. Surrounded by deep green trees and hills, it’s a lovely setting for a distillery; it’s a lovely setting for anything for that matter. The visitor center is a bit like a country cabin, rustic, uncluttered, full of old stuff. There’s a quaint little post office on site, a relic of an earlier time. A short stroll over the creek and across the street takes you to the distillery itself, a place where everything seems a bit slower and more quiet than the other distillery down in Lynchburg.

There are a total of 33 employees here in Cascade Hollow, about 1/10 the number at the distillery down the street. The tour itself is straightforward, you get to see the full distillation process, and they’ll answer just about any question you can throw at them. They know to point out the distinctions between George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s – both of which use charcoal mellowing as a calling card, both of which call Tennessee home.

The main distinctions are thus:

1) Dickel employs a combination column still then pot still distillation process, closer to what you’ll see in Scotland than Lynchburg. (They also use the Scottish spelling “whisky” rather than the more traditional American spelling “whiskey.”)

2) Dickel likes to simulate their original approach of distilling in winter by cooling down their newly distilled whisky to about 40 degrees F before charcoal mellowing.

3) When it comes to charcoal mellowing, Dickel does a couple things differently (though the use of sugar maple charcoal is the same as Jack) – Dickel places virgin wool blankets at the top and bottom of their charcoal mellowing tank to act as a filter, and they have metal plates that more evenly distribute the whiskey as it drips down. At Dickel, the whisky spends about 10-15 days to drip through 13 feet of sugar maple charcoal, vs. the 6 days or so it takes at Jack to drip through 10 feet of charcoal.

4) Dickel ages their barrels in single story barrelhouses up on the hill, in the belief that a single story approach yields more consistent results. While this does result in a more consistently aged product, it also means that aging Dickel barrels on average will be a “slower” process than aging barrels at a multi-story barrelhouse (like most whiskey producers use). Jack Daniel’s actually makes a point of showing how different the same batch of whiskey will look after a few years from the top of a barrelhouse vs. the bottom of the barrelhouse. It is significant. The greater temperature variation at the top of a tall space, especially in a warm summer, will produce greater interaction between the barrel and the whiskey.

5) So, in part at least due to single story aging approach… Dickel is aged a bit longer than Jack, though neither labels their products by age. According to my guide at Dickel, Dickel No. 8 sees about seven years in the barrel (vs. four years or so for Jack’s Old No. 7), Dickel No. 12 sees about nine years, and the Dickel Barrel Select clocks in at 10+ years (vs. six years or so for Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel.) Again, older does not necessarily mean better, it just reflects a slightly different whisk(e)y philosophy.

I must say that, while Jack impresses, and their Single Barrel whiskey is a darn good drink, Dickel is the one more likely to win my heart. From the low key approach, to the longer aging, even to the fact that their parent company (Diageo) treats them like a forgotten child, Dickel is the underdog that deserves rooting for. Now, don’t come to Cascade Hollow expecting to taste the goods. You’ll have to do that elsewhere. But once you do, you’re likely to find that the less popular little brother of Tennessee whisk(e)y is the one you’d rather have by your side on a peaceful evening.

Related Posts:
A Visit to Jack Daniel’s Distillery
Touring Tennessee Whiskey Country

(For a nice comparison of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel and George Dickel’s Barrel Select, check out the tasting notes at Sour Mash Manifesto. It’s worth pointing out, though, that single barrel bottlings and small batch bottlings are inherently variable – you will find differences from bottle to bottle.)

And while you’re here, also check out all the stops on our Tennessee whiskey tour.

Touring Tennessee Whiskey Country

Touring Tennessee Whiskey Country

In the hills and hollows around Lynchburg and Lincoln County, Tennessee, clear spring water and corn come together with sugar maple charcoal and charred white oak barrels to make some of the world’s most famous whiskies. Tennessee is a state rich in whiskey history, a pioneering state, a moonshining state, and, until a few years ago, a state with some of the most absurd laws possible regulating the opening and operation of distilleries.

The big boys – Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel – have been around since 1866 and 1870, respectively, though have both been through some twists and turns along the way, most prominently Prohibition (which started ten years early in Tennessee, in 1910) and mandatory shutdowns during World War II.  Jack and Dickel are about 15 miles away from each other as the crow flies, one in Lynchburg and the other in Cascade Hollow outside Tullahoma. They share rich histories, locations based on access to good water and corn, and similar charcoal mellowing techniques – “the Lincoln County process.” They also managed to get in early enough to have favorable consideration in Tennessee’s distillery laws, which made it near impossible for any new distilleries to open in the state in the twentieth century. Prichard’s, who opened up about 20 miles down the road from Lynchburg in Lincoln County about a decade ago, was the lone exception. Those laws were finally changed about two years ago, and we’re now seeing the results of that change – with Corsair Artisan jumping to a quick start in Nashville after being founded in Kentucky, Ole Smoky setting up in Gatlinburg, Collier & McKeel joining the Nashville scene, and more distilleries in the ramping up phase across the state.

We recently visited the distilleries that make their home in the state’s capital or in the nearby green rolling hills of central Tennessee. The differences among these are dramatic, from the nonstop small-batch experimentation in a converted old auto factory at Corsair Artisan, to the steady voluminous flow of whiskey over charcoal at Jack Daniel’s and their touring hordes of visitors from around the world. What all these distilleries share is a passion for making something great in the state of Tennessee. Today, we’ll give you the (very) short version on visiting them; and, in the next two weeks, we’ll follow up with individual features on each distillery. Enjoy the trip:

If you like the idea of a Whiskey Disney, with guides who are straight out of central casting delivering polished storytelling and a cute little town that was literally built on whiskey, go to Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg. No tasting allowed in this dry county, unless you’re buying a full single barrel, which runs about $10,000.

If you like a humble sense of history, tranquil beauty, and a refreshing dose of honesty served up in an out-of-the-way honest-to-goodness Tennessee country hollow, go spend some time at George Dickel & Co. in Cascade Hollow outside Tullahoma. No tasting available with the tour or at the distillery, either.

If you want to visit a small family of dedicated distillers making the most of a country garage (actually school and community center) turned small batch distillery, and to taste a range of fine rums and whiskies that will expand your appreciation for Tennessee spirits, go to Prichard’s Distillery in Kelso. Call ahead.

If you favor madcap experimentation and geeky enthusiasm in a beautifully restored and converted old auto factory turned “creative community” on the fringe of downtown Nashville,  stop by Corsair Artisan’s taproom and distillery. Please call ahead, distillery visits by appointment only.

Finally, if you want to see firsthand a brand new take on traditional small batch Tennessee whiskey, which happens to be right next door to Corsair Artisan in that wonderful old building in Nashville, check out Collier & McKeel. Also by appointment only.

Check out our Tennessee Whiskey Tour for more on each of these fine Tennessee distilleries. Click here to see a map showing the location of the distilleries, as close as three and a half hours from Atlanta.