It was the depths of the COVID-19 days and my cabinet was looking a little worse for wear. A quick stop at a local dive store left me wanting for something – but for what I wasn’t sure. I’d been wanting to experience some of the Dickel brand, but the Classic No. 8 – at 80 proof – didn’t seem like it would hit the spot. I had my hopes set on some Dickel 13-year Bottled-in-Bond, but that was either elusive or grossly overpriced. I settled on the moderately priced 90-proof No. 12.
What’s Tennessee Whiskey?
Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey have similar roots. Both are distilled from a mash bill containing at least 51% corn and ultimately go into newly charred oak barrels to age. In between those two steps is the key difference: bourbon has no other added flavors before going into the barrel, and while it may be filtered (upon completion of aging), nothing else is done to the distillate.
Tennessee Whiskey, on the other hand, utilizes the Lincoln County Process or the Tennessee Whiskey Process whereby the white dog is charcoal filtered before entering the barrels for extra smoothness. In Jack Daniel’s, it passes through maple charcoal for smoothness and sweetness. Dickel utilizes charcoal made from hard sugar maple trees. The new distillate slowly passes through the charcoal over a 7-10-day period. Dickel also discovered that their whisky tasted smoother when made during the winter months, so the distillate is cooled before its charcoal filtration and barreling.
The George Dickel Story
Labels are always interesting to me and this Dickel No. 12 reads like a short novel. Born in 1818, George Dickel immigrated to the United States in 1844. By the 1860s, he was operating a retail store and liquor wholesaling firm in Nashville. Other partners were brought in and ultimately a distillery was purchased in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee. By the 1880’s, sales of the Cascade Whisky made it one of the most popular regional brands. Credit goes to Master Distiller McLin Davis for the recipe.
Throughout the early 1900s, Cascade Hollow fell under attack against the rising tide of prohibition. When Tennessee enacted prohibition in 1910, operations shifted to the Stitzel Distiller in Louisville, Kentucky until Kentucky enacted prohibition seven years later. Prohibition caused all operations to cease and following prohibition, the brand was acquired by the Schenley Distilling conglomerate.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Schenley’s version was produced at the OFC Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) in Frankfort, Kentucky as a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. Following a failed attempt by Schenley to purchase the Jack Daniel brand in 1956, Schenley returned the Cascade Hollow product to its Tennessee roots and restored the Tennessee Whisky product as a direct competitor to Jack Daniels. The first run was produced at a new distillery on July 4, 1959 with the first bottling 5 years later. The George Dickel name was resurrected for the new brand, as the Cascade Hollow brand was a value-shelfer. Through a series of consolidations and mergers within the industry, the brand today is part of Diageo PLC.
No. 12 is bottled at 90 proof from a blend of older whiskies. No age statement is present. While the label states it is aged for years longer than its standard No. 8 version, most believe the whisky to be a blend of spirits about 6-8 years old. The mash bill is a high corn blend of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley that is distilled and aged in a deeply charred (#4) barrel. The finished product is chill filtered before bottling.
Eye: Medium caramel
Nose: Plenty of corn sweetness with subtler notes of vanilla, honey and simple syrup.
Palate: An initial burst of vanilla and sugar-candy sweetness is quickly followed by citrus notes (I tasted mandarin orange) followed by some cinnamon spice.
Finish: Medium with vanilla and more candied orange slice followed by cinnamon and oak.
Overall: For about $26, this was pretty good and had a different enough flavor profile from my usual pours for it to earn a respectable spot in the cabinet. I shared a pour with a die-hard Wild Turkey fan, and he remarked it was quite good as he handed me his glass for a refill.
Don’t be shy about trying this Tennessee Whisky. As bourbon’s Southern cousin – and with one-time bourbon roots – this might deserve a spot in your home bar.