George Dickel is a brand of Tennessee whiskey primarily distilled, mellowed, and aged in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee, near Tullahoma. The brand is now owned by Diageo PLC. George Dickel's Tennessee Whisky uses the traditional Scottish spelling of whisky (as opposed to whiskey). Reportedly, this is because Dickel believed his product to be as smooth and high in quality as the best Scotch whiskies. The distillery is part of the American Whiskey Trail and offers tours to the public.
Five whiskies are produced under the George Dickel brand:
- Old No. 8 Brand with a black label, at 80 proof
- Superior No. 12 Brand with a beige label, at 90 proof
- Barrel Select Tennessee is a small batch whiskey at 86 proof
- George Dickel Rye Whisky with a green label is a rye whiskey at 90 proof (produced at MGP Indiana)
- No. 1 Foundation Recipe white corn whiskey at 91 proof
George A. Dickel was born in Germany in 1818, and immigrated to the United States in 1844. He founded a retail business in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1850s, and began selling liquor in 1861. After the Civil War, he operated a liquor store on South College Street in Nashville. In the late 1860s, he founded George A. Dickel and Company, a wholesaling firm which bought whiskey from regional distillers and distributed it in barrels, jugs and bottles. In 1871, Meier Saltzkotter, who had worked as a superintendent for Dickel, became a partner in the company. Victor Emmanuel Shwab (1847–1924), a brother-in-law of Dickel who had initially worked for the company as a bookkeeper, became a partner in 1881.
Whiskey was being produced in Cascade Hollow, near Tullahoma, Tennessee, by the 1870s, when John F. Brown and F.E. Cunningham were operating a distillery in the valley. In 1879, Matthew Sims, a local businessman, bought Brown's share of the operation. In 1883, another local businessman, McLin Davis (1852–1898), joined the partnership. Davis became the operation's distiller, and is credited with perfecting the whiskey's recipe. By the early 1890s, the waters of Cascade Branch, which are ideal for making whiskey, and Davis's innovations had helped make Cascade Whisky one of the more popular brands in the region. The Cascade label included the phrase, "Mellow as Moonlight," which was rooted in Davis's method of cooling mash at night.
Following an accident in 1886, Dickel's health declined, and Shwab gradually took control of the wholesaling firm's daily operations. In 1888, Shwab purchased Sims's share of the Cascade Distillery, whose whiskey Dickel and Company had been selling for years. The terms of the purchase made Dickel and Company the sole distributor of Cascade. Shwab also purchased the popular Climax Saloon in Nashville, and afterward advertised the saloon as the "headquarters" of Cascade Whisky. After Davis's death in 1898, his son, Norman Davis, briefly ran the distillery, but was sued by Shwab and forced to sell his share in the operation.
Following Dickel's death in 1894, his share of Dickel and Company was willed to his wife, Augusta. Though he had advised her to sell out, she retained her share of the company, but did not participate in its operations. Upon her death in 1916, she willed her share to Shwab.
Throughout the early 1900s, Shwab fought vehemently against the rising calls for prohibition, spending thousands of dollars on lobbying campaigns in Nashville, and thwarting legislation aimed at curtailing the sale of alcohol on at least one occasion. In spite of his efforts, Tennessee enacted prohibition in 1910, forcing the Cascade operation to relocate to the Stitzel Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. It was produced here until Kentucky enacted statewide prohibition in 1917. The operation shut down altogether with the onset of nationwide prohibition in 1920.
In 1933, national prohibition was repealed. Four years later, Shwab's heirs sold the Cascade brand to the Schenley Distilling Company. The recipe had never been written down, and had to be obtained from two former distillers at the Cascade Hollow site. In the 1940s and 1950s, Schenley's product, produced at the OFC Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, was marketed as Geo. A. Dickel's Cascade Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky.
In 1931, Schenley attempted to buy the Jack Daniel's brand. After its offer was refused, Schenley decided instead to return one of their own brands to its roots and compete against Jack Daniel's. In 1958, after the passage of enabling legislation making it legal to produce liquor in Coffee County, Tennessee, Schenley's Ralph Dupps reconstructed the Cascade Hollow distillery. The new distillery is located about a mile from the old distillery site, but still utilizes the waters of Cascade Branch. The first mash was produced at the new distillery on July 4, 1959, and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky was first bottled in 1964. Schenley opted to use George Dickel's name as the trademark because of the Cascade brand's reputation for value. Schenley shut down the Tennessee bottling operation in the 1980s, and the whiskey has since been hauled in tanker trucks for bottling elsewhere. Various mergers and buyouts have resulted in Diageo owning the Dickel brand. Between 2005 and 2015, the Cascade Distillery operated under the supervision of Master Distiller John Lunn. In March 2015, it was announced that Lunn would leave the company to become the master distiller for the Popcorn Sutton microdistillery.
Increased production of George Dickel in the 1990s caused supply to exceed demand. In response, the distillery closed to allow the whiskey's value to rebound and mitigate some wastewater issues at the distillery. It reopened in 2003, almost too late to prevent a shortage of Old No. 8 in the market by 2007. Diageo introduced a younger, three-year-old expression branded Old-Fashioned Cascade Hollow Batch Recipe to meet demand. It was discontinued in 2013, after aged stocks rebounded sufficiently.
George Dickel Rye, introduced in 2012, is the only Dickel product not produced at the Cascade Hollow Distillery. Most of the stages of its production are conducted under contract in Indiana, and is then trucked to the Diageo's facility in Plainfield, Illinois, for filtering with Dickel's charcoal and bottling. It is mashed, distilled and aged at MGP Indiana.
In early 2014, Dickel introduced their No. 1 Foundation Recipe, using an unaged version of their standard mashbill; the Dickel mashbill is over 80% corn, allowing for its sale as "corn whiskey". Also around 2014, a new bottling line was installed at the distillery.
Food critic Morgan Murphy said "Distilled twice, the white dog [No. 1 Foundation Recipe] at Dickel is chilled then filtered through wool blankets and maple sugar charcoal before it is put into the barrel and the result is smooth, sweet (but not overly so), and peppery."
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- "History Of Dickel Distillery". George A. Dickel & Co. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Larry Olmstead, A Brand New Rye Whiskey That Will Turn Heads, Forbes, 25 October, 2012.
- Kay Baker Gaston, "George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey: The Story Behind the Label," Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 51-64.
- Kevin Cason, "George Dickel Distillery," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved: 15 July 2014.
- Google News Archive: The Free Lance-Star Sep. 21, 1953
- The Book of Classic American Whiskeys. Mark H. Waymack and James Harris.
- Schelzig, Eric, "Dickel master distiller leaving to head Popcorn Sutton", Yahoo News via Associated Press, March 16, 2015
- Charles A. Cowdery, George Dickel Gives a Different Taste to LDI Rye, The Chuck Cowdery Blog, October 26, 2012.
- Kevin Gray, George Dickel Rye Whisky Review, October 19, 2012.
- "George Dickel White Corn Whisky Foundation No. 1 Recipe". bevindustry.com. January 22, 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
- Hansell, John (29 January 2014). "Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project". Whiskey Advocate. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
- National Register of Historic Places plaque at the George Dickel Visitor Center. Information accessed 15 March 2014.
- Murphy, Morgan; Editors of Southern Living magazine (2014). Southern Living Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to the South's Favorite Foods. Oxmoor House. ISBN 978-0848743161.
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