We’ve reviewed some of the whiskey produced by George Dickel in the past, and generally consider it a good option for a tasty, budget-friendly Tennessee whiskey. Which begs the question: if their budget version is good, how much better can this whiskey with some extra effort put into it? That’s what we hope to find out with the 9 Year Single Barrel Select.
George A. Dickel was born in Germany in 1818 and immigrated to the United States around 1844. He founded a retail business in Nashville, Tennessee in 1850 and began selling liquor in 1861. Following the end of the Civil War, he expanded his liquor business to a standalone liquor store and started the George A. Dickel and Company liquor wholesaling business, which focused on buying bulk liquor from local distilleries and bottling it for sale and distribution.
After an accident in 1886, George’s health began to deteriorate and long time bookkeeper Victor Emmanuel Shwab took over the day-to-day operations of the company. One of his first actions was to take over a large ownership percentage of a distillery in Cascade Hollow, where the company had been procuring a large percentage of their whiskey. When George died in 1894, his wife then took over ownership until her own death in 1916. At that point, she willed the remaining shares to Shwab who became the sole owner of the company and the distillery.
Like most, the company shuttered its doors during prohibition in the United States. After the ban on alcohol was lifted, though, the Schenley Distilling Company purchased the old George A. Dickel operation. None of the recipes or processes had been written down, so Schenley had to track down former distillers and employees to reverse engineer what had been going on. (For those keeping score, Schenley is the same distillery that currently produces the Ancient Age line of blended whiskey today.) Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Schenley marketed their whiskey under the George A. Dickel name.
In 1956, Schenley attempted (unsuccessfully) to purchase the other Tennessee whiskey: Jack Daniels. After their takeover attempt failed, they decided instead to directly compete with Jack, opening a new distillery roughly one mile from the historic Cascade distillery and using the same Lincoln County charcoal filtration method for their whiskey. The distillery opened on July 4th, 1959 and the first bottle rolled out of the distillery in 1964.
Sometime in the intervening years, the George A. Dickel brand and distillery was sold off to the Diageo corporation based out of the UK, who remain in control to this day.
The whiskey starts out just like their Classic No. 8 product: as a mix of grains containing 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley. This is a slightly higher concentration of corn than Jack Daniels, for reference. These grains are then cooked, fermented, and distilled twice. First the spirit goes through a column still or “continuous still” before being batch distilled in a more traditional Scottish style pot still. This second pot distillation is why they spell their product’s name “whisky” without the “e” in honor of the Scottish tradition.
The whisky then takes a bit of a nap in some charred oak barrels before being filtered in what’s known as the Lincoln County Process. The unique approach that George A. Dickel introduced is the chill filtering of the spirit before it goes through the filtration process, which tends to reduce some of the heavier elements and makes the spirit lighter in flavor. The charcoal for the filtration process is made from sugar maple trees, just like with Jack Daniels.
What makes this different from the other offerings by George Dickel is that this spirit has been aged for a whopping 9 years, and the whiskey in the bottle comes from only a single barrel. Usually, multiple barrels are combined to produce a more consistent flavor but this is as close as you’ll get to dipping a cup into a barrel of whiskey.
This bottle is a significant departure from the normal style that Dickel produces. Instead of a round body to the bottle, this version has a short, fat body that reminds me of when I look in the mirror after all the weight I’ve gained from the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s wider when seen from the front, meaning it takes up more shelf space and doesn’t quite fit in a standard speed well at a bar.
That pudgy body rounds to a short neck, and the whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
What I appreciate about the label is that it doesn’t take up quite as much of the real estate on the bottle as the “normal” editions of this whiskey. The label here takes up just enough space to convey the required information, has a small logo, and that’s it. It does have a faux handwritten type face to it to make it feel more “hand selected” but I can appreciate that. What it doesn’t do is obscure the contents of the bottle, letting that beautiful brown liquid shine through.
As soon as you pour a glass, you can tell this is a deeper and richer flavor than the usual George Dickel offering. There are some great caramel and vanilla notes coming off the glass, which you’d usually associate with a well-aged bourbon. (Which, technically, this is.) I do get just a touch of that banana flavor coming through the aroma, but that’s in the background, and maybe mixed with a little bit of applesauce.
At 51.5% alcohol by volume, this tacks a little bit of an extra kick compared to the Classic No. 8 — but that’s not what you’re going to notice first. Right out of the gate, those bold and saturated flavors are strong and powerful, with a richness that isn’t normally seen in Tennessee whiskey. Caramel and vanilla are the first flavors to emerge, with a bit of charred oak flavor that kicks in and adds some slight bitterness to the experience. The flavors finish well, with a touch of sweet apple.
I will say, though: the charred wood flavor might be a little overpowering for those who aren’t prepared. So be aware.
With the addition of a bit of ice, richer and darker spirits tend to mellow out. And sure enough, that’s the case here and I think it’s a welcome and appreciated change.
That charred wood flavor is taking a backseat at this point, still present and providing some depth to the flavor profile but without being abrasive or overpowering. And now that it has been significantly reduced, I can get more of that sweet banana flavor along with a touch of apple, and some brown sugar sweetness.
Compared to other Tennessee whiskey, this seems to hold up well with a bit of ice. Other versions tend to have most of the flavors that would appear here already filtered out by the time it gets to your glass, but this is still plenty flavorful enough to make an impact.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
You’d think that with all the dark and rich flavors this spirit started out with, it would make a great old fashioned. And it kind of does… as in, it has some good depth and complexity to the flavors. But if you recall the previous section, the added ice swung this pretty solidly into the “sweeter, lighter” territory.
The problem might just be that this spirit is now straddling the two extremes. It isn’t rich and dark enough to benefit from the fruity aspects of the bitters, but it also isn’t sweet and smooth enough to counteract the bitters either. What’s left is a cocktail that is pretty good, but just a bit off. Not quite balanced right.
You can probably fix this with the addition of a bit of cherry juice, but that’s not part of our “standard” old fashioned setup.
There are some good things going on here… but there are also some issues that need to be addressed.
Working well here: the flavors in this cocktail mix pretty well. The fruity aspects and darker aspects of the whiskey both interact well with the bright ginger beer, making for a good flavor profile.
However, there’s a bit of a bitterness problem. It seems like there just isn’t enough sweetness in the underlying whiskey to properly balance out the bitterness in the ginger beer, and what’s left is something that has a bit of a bite when you first take a sip. It isn’t overly terrible, but it is noticeable.
There’s a lot of good spirits at this price point. And, in all fairness, this whiskey generally holds it’s own against the big boys. Taken neat or with a bit of ice, the flavors and the experience make it worth the price tag.
The problems appear when you start adding it to a cocktail. Either as an old fashioned or a mule there are some structural issues that need addressing to really enjoy the drink. But, as long as you don’t plan on making cocktails with this, you won’t be disappointed.
|George Dickel 9 Year Single Barrel Select
Tennessee, United States
Classification: Tennessee Whiskey
Aging: 9 Years
Proof: 59.8% ABV
Price: $54.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
A nine year barrel nap well spent.