Apologies, because the below prose was mostly copied from my recent Dickel No. 12 review, but it’s all still relevant and I am, at heart, a lazy person. Usually I let a good couple of months go by between blatant self-plagiarizing, but I just had to post this review immediately once I tasted it. It has been a long, long while since I opened a new bottle and found something warranting the “Must Have” tag. I have been jaded and disillusioned by the modern whisky industry, which I find to be full of noise with little substance. It was thus a welcome kick in the ass to discover that I could still be surprised by a bottle that retails for $35.
The George Dickel brand is best known as the “other” Tennessee Whiskey. Without going into the whole thing here, I’ll summarize by saying Tennessee Whiskey is straight bourbon whiskey (but don’t call it bourbon) that has been filtered through some quantity of sugar-maple charcoal. George Dickel, owned by Diageo, takes the extra step of chilling the whiskey before performing the filtering. This practice, called ‘chill filtration’, is now generally avoided by modern scotch producers who have found that consumers prefer not to have flavor compounds filtered out of their high-end whiskies. Dickel claims the chill-filtration through charcoal “mellows” the whiskey, removing harsh flavors. Maybe. Who knows. It certainly worked out in their rye and (spoilers!) here.
George Dickel’s lineup includes several Tennessee whiskies including a “No. 8” which is comparable to Jack Daniel’s “Old No. 7” in the black bottle, a “No. 12” which includes older whiskey in the blend and an extra 5% bottling strength, this Bottled-in-Bond expression, and a small batch “Barrel Select”. The Tennessee whiskies are all made at Dickel’s historic Cascade Hollow Distillery near Tullahoma, Tennessee, from a mash bill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley.
This Bottled-in-Bond batch, from the Fall 2005 distilling season, was aged for 13 years and is bottled at the required 50% ABV. It is chill-filtered through sugar maple charcoal, like the rest of Dickel’s whiskies.
Nose: Sweet, fruity, floral, and flecked with oak. We’re off to a good start. The fruit is plentiful: mixed berry jam, kiwi, rhubarb, red delicious apple, and fresh plums. There is also a popped corn aroma, some light caramel, and the smell that you get when you open a fresh bag of hardwood lump charcoal. This is delivered along with a strong nose tickle, so don’t stick your nose too deep in the glass.
Palate: Thin body. The fruit – especially the jam – continues onto the palate. After a brief but intense tongue burn – it is 100 proof after all – there is soft corn, sweet honeyed cornbread, mild oaky tannins, and more. Quite complex.
Finish: Long. The fruit – now with some balsamic-like density – continues through the finish, and evolves into licorice drops, red pepper jelly, charcoal without bitterness, and vague wafting smoke, like a newly-lit campfire. This lasts for surprisingly long (for a corn whiskey). Excellent.
With Water: A few drops of water add candy corn and vanilla ice cream to the aroma and palate without taking anything away. The burn seems less intense, but the finish is slightly more vegetal (grassy). Try both without and then with water.
Overall: Wow. This stuff is legit. 13 years of aging, prominent fruit notes without undue bitterness that last from nose to finish, all for $35? This has just become my new favorite under-$50 bourbon. As long as it retains its age statement, it will sit alongside Eagle Rare 10 year (my house bourbon) as my house Tennessee Whiskey. I think the Eagle Rare is a little more polished, with fewer eclectic notes and more focus, but this new Dickel is bursting with complexity, and I love some fruit character in my American whiskey. I’m sold. In fact, I’m going to go get a few more bottles.