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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.

Two Takes on White Whiskey: Troy and Sons Moonshine, American Spirit

Two Takes on White Whiskey: Troy and Sons Moonshine, American Spirit

So-called “white whiskey” or “moonshine” brands seem to be breeding like bunnies these days. That makes sense, given the interest in the “forbidden” nature of moonshine and especially given the explosion in startup distilleries across the South and the United States more broadly. If you’re a startup, the last thing you want to do is make a product that you can’t sell for three or six or ten or (gasp) twenty years. White whiskey, of course, is “white” because it’s unaged.

Now, unaged does not mean “without character,” but the character of an unaged whiskey is inherently very different than one that’s been sitting in oak for years. The unaged whiskies I’ve tried have ranged from undrinkable to truly fantastic. At the truly fantastic end of the spectrum is the OMG Pure Rye from High West – delightfully yeasty and a real artisan product. At the undrinkable end of the spectrum are a few of the white whiskies put out by the larger producers who have simply bottled the stuff that goes into their barrels before it ever hits the barrel. At best, these are educational drinks and give insight into the wonderful magic that time in a barrel can make of a spirit that you’d rather spit out at first.

Two of the more interesting Southern white whiskies to arrive in the past year have very different ideas of what a white whiskey can (or should) be, and you get a sense of those ideas right on front of their (beautiful) bottles. The first bottle, Troy & Sons Distillers Small Batch Moonshine, calls out that that it is “handmade with Crooked Creek corn,” an heirloom variety found near their Asheville, North Carolina, home. This is clearly a story of small batch production and small batch ingredients. The second bottle, American Spirit Whiskey, calls out most prominently that it’s “ultra-filtered.” Their calling card is “versatility” and taking the bite out of typical unaged whiskey alternatives. Intrigued?

Both of these products clock in at 80 proof. Both are clear as glass. Both speak with a slow Southern drawl and have wonderful backstories worth checking out (go to their websites for that!). And both put a big emphasis on their ability to make great cocktails. But what about the distinctions?

Troy & Sons is trying to capture the taste of (really good) moonshine from the past, while American Spirit Whiskey is crafting a modern story that both embraces and eschews its whiskey roots at the same time. How’s that?

American Spirit Whiskey is different than any other whiskey I’ve tasted, especially in its composition. I encourage you to read their FAQs for the whole story, but the gist of it is that this is a blend of 5% “bourbon-quality white dog” and 95% grain neutral spirits (distilled from corn) that is then filtered through a unique process that does indeed produce a surprisingly smooth and flavorful result. This is akin to a gateway whiskey for vodka drinkers. And, in that respect, it works. Here in Atlanta, bartenders have embraced the stuff as it is highly adaptable to a range of cocktail recipes. Likewise, Troy & Sons has won raves for their Small Batch Moonshine. One taste lets you know that corn is the source.

So how do the two compare taste-wise? On to the tasting notes:

American Spirit Whiskey
80 Proof
Approx. $30 Retail

The nose is clean, but with a definite hint of grain or malt, a bit of grassy herbs, and just a touch of a purple grape-like fruitiness. Neat, there is a nice smooth body to it, again a clean-ness that drinks surprisingly well and goes down (a bit too) easy. It has a soft minerality to it, and, like the nose, a slight fruitiness. The finish stops short but then comes back with a bit of heat at the end. A cube of ice accentuates the crispness, and brings out a subtle caramel-honey towards the finish. Cocktails? Yes, use this in place of vodka in just about anything for a bit more intrigue. Vodka is actually a better frame of reference for this than “whiskey” per se.

Good Stuff – a unique and intriguing spirit, suitable for sipping or a wide range of cocktails. Calling it “the Most Versatile Whiskey in the World” may not be quite right, but it is versatile, indeed. Here are some good recipes to get you started.

Troy & Sons Distillers Small Batch Moonshine
80 Proof
Approx. $30 Retail

The nose on this nearly explodes with green corn or corn husk, especially after the subtle clarity of the American Spirit Whiskey. There’s a bit of a green menthol undertone on the nose as well that takes this away from a basic corn profile and into the territory of a good sake. The mouthfeel is lush and round, and the sweeter side of the corn starts to show, but again with an herbaceous quality that rounds out the sweet corn character. The finish is pleasantly long, with a lip smacking lingering layer of minty corn. Minty corn? It works. With a cube of ice, the body rounds out even more, the sweetness pops in the mid-palate, the finish smooths out as well. As for cocktails, Troy & Sons says to use their moonshine “in place of gin, vodka, tequila or rum.” That’s a big stretch if you ask me – this is corn whiskey, through and through, and very good corn whiskey at that. I’d say look for recipes that call for moonshine and this will beat out competitors, or for something adventurous, look for recipes that call for sake and see how this works.

Good Stuff – this may be the best commercial “moonshine” I’ve had, meaning it captures the character of what really good moonshine should be, with evident corn but enough complexity and smoothness to make things really interesting.

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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: Products provided as tasting samples for this review.

Thirsty Reading: Chasing The White Dog, by Max Watman

Thirsty Reading: Chasing The White Dog, by Max Watman

Have you chased the white dog? Max Watman has, and he somehow manages to live to tell the tale(s). Hunting down hidden stills. Riding shotgun with a NASCAR legend whose success had a little something to do with his previous experience with moonshine. Building a patched-together home still that just might explode at any moment, in hopes that it might turn out a few drops of precious likker. Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine lets you in on the chase, a chase that weaves from the shadows of the Smoky mountains to rural courtrooms to blighted urban landscapes, all touched by the white dog. It’s a mishmash of history lessons, hidden recipes, wild stories, and criminal whodunits that will leave you both fascinated by the possibility of the mythic moonshine and horrified by the reality of what it can leave in its wake.  And it’s simply a great read for anyone who has ever had an itch to chase the white dog.

You can pick up the book for a steal over at Amazon, and the paperback is on its way to stores next week. In fact, thanks to the publisher, we have one brand-spankin-new paperback copy to give away to a lucky reader. Just leave a comment below with your favorite name for moonshine (AKA mountain dew, white lightnin, white dog, etc.) by February 16, 2011, and we’ll randomly choose a winner from all the entries. Let the chase begin…

UPDATE – 2/17/2011: We have a winner! “Speedmaster” will now be Chasing The White Dog