Tennessee whiskey brand George Dickel just released its oldest expression to date, an expensive 18-year-old bourbon that is complex, balanced, and not overly oaky despite spending nearly two decades maturing in barrels.
George Dickel is the second best known Tennessee whiskey brand after Jack Daniel’s, the behemoth that dominates all whiskey categories. This Diageo-owned brand is produced at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. in the small town of Tullahoma, and the operation has been overseen by general manager and distiller Nicole Austin since 2018. That’s a very good thing—Austin has revitalized the brand with releases like the Bottled-in-Bond series, the experimental Cascade Moon lineup, and the introduction of a bourbon into the portfolio. That last one might seem a bit subjective, because technically most Tennessee whiskey is bourbon that has undergone the extra step of charcoal filtration before going into barrels (something some whiskey fans will debate all day). In a recent interview with Robb Report, Austin admitted that calling some of the whiskey bourbon and some Tennessee whiskey can be hard to explain. “The category gets more and more varied, so this is my perspective of what I think of as a classic American whiskey flavor profile,” she said. “Someone could argue with me that I’m doing it wrong, but they’re not in charge, so by all means!”
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Dickel Bourbon was introduced in 2021 as an eight-year-old expression—and one that we really loved. Austin started looking at these older barrels in 2019, and she says that the new 18-year-old is not just an older version of last year’s 17-year-old release. “I knew people were interested in these older expressions from Dickel,” she said. “When I was looking at barrels for the 17-year-old Tennessee whiskey, I found some that had a lot more of that vanilla and fruit character and I set them aside for this… I chose to call them bourbon because it was a continuation of the same reason that Dickel Bourbon exists—this is an older version of that flavor profile.”
Many of the barrels that went into this release were nearly empty, having lost 70 to 80 percent in angel’s share, or evaporation, over nearly 20 years of hot Tennessee summers and cold winters. Surprisingly, that did not result in a dried-out oak bomb of a whiskey. On the contrary, there are delicate fruits on the palate, along with sour apple, cherry-lime soda, chocolate-orange, vanilla pudding, and a burst of citrus. Some mellow smoky oak permeates throughout, culminating in a warm and lengthy finish, thanks to the whiskey being bottled at 90 proof. Still, Austin acknowledges that $510 is a lot to ask someone to pay for a bottle of Dickel, a brand not normally associated with such high prices, but she feels confident about its value. “I want people to trust that this liquid is rooted in something I believe in,” she said. “Finding American whiskey this old is rare, especially with this flavor profile.” Besides, the naysayers don’t really bother her. “No matter what you do, someone is going to be mean to you on the Internet. Once you realize that, it’s freeing, so I might as well make the whiskey I want to make.”
Austin also offered a tease about what we can expect from Dickel over the coming year. Two new bottled-in-bond blends are on the way, and one will be the oldest in the series to date (she tastes them blind, so this was not by design). Also, there will be a new Cascade Moon collaborative release with Todd Leopold of Colorado’s Leopold Bros., and it might incorporate some whiskey aged in refill barrels. In the meantime, you can find Dickel Bourbon Aged 18 Years available to purchase from Total Wine.
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