Whiskey Review: George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky

We’ve previously reviewed the Number 8 from George Dickel here on Thirty One Whiskey, and it’s a damn delicious spirit. But that’s not the only version that they produce — the Number 12 is billed as a slightly higher quality spirit, so naturally we felt it obligated to see if the price point matched the experience.

History

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 eventually died in 1894 and his wife 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 Great Britain, who remain in control to this day.

Product

The whiskey starts as a mix of grains containing 84% corn, 10% rye, and 6% malted barley. This is a slightly higher concentration of corn than Jack Daniels, for reference, and slightly more rye content than their own No. 8 version. 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 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.

Packaging

While the Old No. 8 version used a black background with white lettering, this is the opposite. They use a more traditional white background with black lettering, with an antique-typesetting font that evokes that late 1800’s era and paper that makes up the label looks like it has been tattered and aged a bit on the edges. This version also bears a signature of George Dickel himself on the front.

The bottle itself is fairly standard in design, but there’s a bit of a twist. The neck has some facets molded into it, almost mimicking the way that a Jack Daniel’s bottle looks (but legally distinct from their design, of course).

The bottle is capped off with a cork and plastic stopper.

Neat

Just like with the Number 8 variety, the primary aroma coming off the glass is that of the sweet banana flavor that I usually associate with Tennessee whiskey (such as Jack Daniel’s). But I also get some peppery spice, which is a pretty standard hallmark of extra rye content. Capping everything off, there’s some brown sugar and vanilla, as you’d expect from a bourbon.

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 Jack — heavier, with more of a rich apple flavor and some oak spice notes.

On Ice

The spirit has already been chill filtered once, so I wasn’t expecting that adding ice would have a huge impact on the spirit. And, sure enough, the flavor profile changes only slightly. With the original Number 8, there’s some added bitterness that creeps in and I think that’s the case here — but there’s also a more pronounced pepper spice from the rye content that makes an appearance, too.

The overall effect is like you’ve got a spiced apple cider that’s been spiked with a little bit of whiskey and some black pepper.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This does a pretty good job as an old fashioned. I don’t think I quite notice the same bitterness I discussed in the Number 8, but adding some sugar is still a good idea.

The angostura bitters mix very well with the apple flavors and the peppery spice, which makes for a delicious drink. Very much a fruit forward presentation.

Fizz (Mule)

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 (or 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.

What’s different from the Number 8 is that there’s more pepper spice from the rye content, which adds that little extra bit of kick to the mule and provides a unique experience that you just don’t get from something like vodka or tequila.

Overall Rating

Is it better than the Number 8? Absolutely. The same flavors are present, but, in a rare double-win, the bitterness has decreased and the pepper spice kick is increased. In this price range, the only comparable spirit we’ve tried so far is Gentleman Jack. And while I liked that whiskey, I think I actually like this one better.

George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
Produced By: George Dickel
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Tennessee Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 4/5
George is giving Jack a run for his money.

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