There are precisely two major distilleries that produce Tennessee whiskey using the time honored Lincoln County process. The first is Jack Daniels, a rather famous whiskey you may have heard of. The other, George Dickel Classic No. 8 Tennessee Sour Mash, I had never heard of — and certainly never tried — an oversight I decided needed fixing.
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 percentage of the shares of a distillery in Cascade Hollow, where their company had been procuring a large percentage of their whiskey. George died in 1894 and his wife took over ownership until her death in 1916. At that point, she willed the remaining shares to Shwab who became the sole owner of the company and the distillery.
The company shuttered its doors during prohibition in the United States — but once the ban on alcohol was lifted, the Schenley Distilling Company purchased the old George A. Dickel operation. None of the recipes or processes had been written down, though, so Schenley had to track down the old distillers and workers 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 Great Britain, who remain in control to this day.
The whiskey starts 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. From there, the grains are 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 spin on things 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.
There are a number of elements here that mimic the “other Tennessee whiskey” that Dickel is trying to unseat. The font and the style is similar, with the name large and in charge on a black background. The recipe is version controlled, with this being number 8 and Jack only being number 7. Even the formatting of the label is very similar, and there’s a prominent number printed on the top of the neck just like with Jack.
The only really big difference here is that the bottle is round, not square like a typical Jack Daniels bottle. Even the faceted aspect of the neck of the bottle is present and accounted for.
I’m not mad — it’s a fine design and the bottle looks good — it just looks like they’re trying way too hard to go after Big Black.
If there’s one tasting note that I always remember about Jack Daniels, it’s the banana flavor — and I get the same thing here. That banana aroma is much more pronounced here than with Jack, but it mixes in with the vanilla from the rest of the whiskey process in a way that makes for a very appealing smell.
It’s like bananas foster.
While the aroma is light and sweet, the taste itself is much thicker and heavier than Jack Daniels. It’s got more of a weight to it, almost like drinking a very light maple syrup. The flavors are also significantly bolder than I remember with Jack; heavier with more of a rich apple flavor and some oak spice notes.
The spirit has already been chill filtered once, so I’m not expecting that adding the ice will have a huge impact on the spirit. And, sure enough, the flavor profile changes only slightly.
I’d say the most remarkable change that happens is the drink becomes slightly bitter. When taken neat, it’s almost sweet from all the added corn but with the ice added, it’s more of a bitter taste that’s left in your mouth.
That said, all of the flavors remain — specifically the apple and oak spices that we saw before. It’s just a bit cooler and toned down somewhat from the dilution.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
The drink is definitely bitter if you don’t add sugar. Not atrociously bitter, but bitter enough that it’s not pleasantly ‘drinkable’ without a significant dose of sugar to balance it out. Some spirits are sweet enough on their own… this is not one of them.
Sweetness aside, the flavors are there. The bitters counter balance the fruity notes from the spirit quite well, and once you add a bit of sugar it’s damn near a party in a glass. Fruity, delicious, and something you can see yourself sipping all night long.
The whisky really is in its prime here.
That same fruity taste that the spirit brings to an Old Fashioned also is very present here in the Kentucky (or Tennessee) mule. It’s something closer in flavor to an island cocktail like a Mai Tai, but without all the fuss and the rum.
In any case, it absolutely passes our ‘mule test’ in the sense that we can definitely see the underlying spirit coming through the heavy and bold flavors, interacting well, and making for something completely new. I’d say it’s very similar to how Kooper’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo works in a mule, but with a slightly more apple forward spin.
I really like their product. I think there are some rough edges, but the smoother and bolder flavor that comes from that chill filtering process really does make a difference. Schenley got the formula right, and I appreciate Diageo for keeping it rolling.
George Dickel Classic No. 8 Tennessee Sour mash Whiskey
Owner: Diageo, United Kingdom
Production: Tullahoma, TN
Classification: Tennessee Whiskey
Grain bill: 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $22 / 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
You don’t know Jack? That’s okay, you know George instead.