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


* 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.

Bourbon Porn: Evan Williams Single Barrel

Herewith, a new feature on Thirsty South – Bourbon Bottle Porn. Photos of bourbon bottles that will make you thirsty. That’s it. For our inaugural release – a few bottles of Evan Williams Single Barrel, 2000 and 2004 vintages. Outside. In the cold winter air. Consider yourself warned.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon

Intrigued? Check out BOURBONPORN.COM. (99.9% completely safe for work)


Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon Memories

I was living in Manhattan, but didn’t know a thing about Manhattans. This was back in the late nineties, when I was in my late twenties. My drink of choice tended towards inexpensive wines that had been given a “best value” stamp of approval by whatever wine magazine was doing that type of thing back then. Or early craft beers like Sam Adams or Pete’s Wicked Ale (remember that???). The closest to a classic cocktail I got was a few rounds of caipirinhas at the all-you-can-eat Brazilian rodizio down on West Broadway, strong and sugary mint alcohol. Actually, I did once try another classic-ish cocktail – I ordered a sloe gin fizz as my mandatory drink at a dark jazz bar down in the Village. It seemed like an appropriately artsy thing to do, but it looked and tasted like a Shirley Temple. I never ordered a sloe gin fizz again.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
No, not the exact bottle I bought in 1998, but you can see the bottle hasn’t changed much in 16 years

My liquor cabinet at the time consisted of a bottle of Absolut. That’s it. But then I read a little blurb extolling the virtues of Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. I can’t recall where I read it, maybe the Times, maybe a magazine, definitely not on the internet which was still subject to the confoundingly glacial pace of dial-up connections. The key thing that drew me to the Evan Williams was that the article said it was an amazing bargain – probably $17 or so at the time. Ahh, value. Important to me now, even more important to my younger self. Actually, $17 felt like a big splurge at the time, next to the $10 1.5 liters of bourbon all around the Evan Williams Single Barrel at the liquor store. But I made the purchase, then pretty much relegated the bottle to a dark cabinet somewhere in my apartment.

I guess you could say my whiskey enthusiasm has come a long way (as has the whiskey industry, and whiskey pricing, and whiskey fanaticism). But Evan Williams Single Barrel was my first seriously considered bourbon purchase, and it’s held a soft spot in my heart ever since. It seems somewhat pedestrian today – a (roughly) ten year old single barrel bourbon – but Evan Williams Single Barrel was pretty rare when it came out with its first “vintage” in the mid 1990’s. Heaven Hill likely had the competition in mind when they launched it. Over at the rival George T. Stagg Distillery, master distiller Elmer T. Lee had paved the way for a top-notch single barrel bourbon a decade before with Blanton’s, then got his own brand later in the ’80’s. But Evan Williams came in at a much lower price point, with a unique vintage notion – all the barrels selected for a given release were put in barrel the same year many moons ago. The bottles got slopped with a barreled-on date and a bottled-on date to provide a bit of insight into what made each bottle unique. Even now, I wish putting the barreling and bottling dates on bottles were a more commonplace practice. And I’m thankful that Evan Williams keeps up the practice.

Evan Williams Single Barrel BourbonAll along, Evan Williams Single Barrel has been about great bourbon value. The fact that each year’s release is a little bit different (and the fact that there’s variation from barrel to barrel within each year’s release) keeps up the intrigue over time. Some vintages get a reputation for excellence, some get a bum rap. Heaven Hill tries to find a slightly different personality for each release, but they all tend to share a core house flavor profile that I find to be about as bourbon-y as bourbon can be. Not too hot, not too thin, plenty of rich brown sugar, just enough spice.

The 2004 vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel is hitting stores now. I just got my first bottle (thank you Heaven Hill). In fact, it’s labeled as coming from “barrel no. 1” of this release. I’m eager to give it a try, as I’m sure it will spark fond memories and  help create some new ones as well. I’ll share some tasting notes in a few weeks once I’ve had a chance to sit with this one a bit and reminisce. Now where did I put my caipirinha?