Archive for August 25th, 2004

Tennesee really does make the best whisk(e)y…

Aug 25, 2004 in Pop Culture

…and I’m not talking about that Jack Daniels stuff (although their tour is very interesting and educational, and I would recommend it to any tourist who makes it down Tennessee way). I’m talking about George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky (spelled without the ‘e’, because Mr. Dickel believed that his whisky was as good as the Scotch whiskys that share the same spelling.)

Dickel and Daniels manufacture the only whisk(e)ys in the world that bear the designation of “Tennesee whiskey.” This is because of the extra step of mellowing the whiskey through at least ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. Bear in mind too that Tennessee whiskey is different that bourbon whiskey, which is usually manufacured in Kentucky and lacks the mellowing process.

If this sounds like a ringing endorsement, it is. I’m far from a wine and spirits connoisseur, although I do have an appreciation for fine ales. (Even Guinness tastes like milk to me.) But this is by far the best whiskey I’ve ever drank. And the best part is that, at least in Tennessee, George Dickel No. 12 is around $5 cheaper than Jack Daniels black label. (I paid $15 for this bottle.)

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Merle Haggard, speaking here to the Onion’s AV Club:

“I think George Dickel is absolutely the best Tennessee mash whiskey. It’s my understanding that Jack Daniel’s was an attempt to try to take the recipe of George Dickel to a commercial state of reproducing it. Whereas they couldn’t do that with George Dickel, because in order to make it the way they make it, they would have had to repeat too many different formulas. It would have been impossible. They did certain things at certain temperatures in a certain kind of water. So I went down there and looked at their distilleries and saw what they were doing, saw the difference between that and Jack Daniel’s, and I couldn’t believe it. You take George Dickel and you pour it over ice and hold it up to the light, and it won’t separate. But if you take Jack Daniel’s and do that, hold it up to the light, you’ll notice that the corn oil starts separating from the whiskey, because it hasn’t been married at the correct temperature. When you go down and have this education thrown upon you, and then you drink it?everybody got drunk when we was taking pictures. It was about 20 girls and about 20 guys, and we’re all down in this creek drunk with two fists of George Dickel apiece, and we all stayed over and had breakfast together, and not a one of us had a hangover.”

Unlike Jack Daniels, which has existed pretty much continuously since 1866, George Dickel’s distillery has made more comebacks than Elvis. The distillery closed down during Prohibition, and remained closed for almost forty years. A man named Ralph Dupps rebuilt the distillery in 1958, which was later acquired by multinational conglomerates such as United Distilleries, who closed the distillery in 1999 due to business problems. Current owner Diageo reopened the distillery last year, and as a result, much of the No. 12 whisky sold since then has been sitting in barrels for as much as 12 years, nearly twice as long as normal.

I’m not certain of the availability of George Dickel Whisky outside of the Southeast, but it can always be ordered online (state laws depending). Here are a few other resources about Tennessee whisk(e)y to whet your appetite:

  • A brief comparison between Jack Daniels and George Dickel No. 12
  • Articles from the Louisville Courier-Journal and Cigar Aficionado magazine on Dickel’s history and the recent re-opening.
  • An academic article from 1999 on the history of Tennessee distilleries.