Jack Daniel’s is often the spirit that people think of when talking about Tennessee whiskey. Although it’s certainly the largest Tennessee whiskey, it’s certainly not the only one: George Dickel has been plugging away in the whisky space since 1867. Like most American distilleries, Dickel was shuttered during prohibition, only to resume production again in 1958. George Dickel may not have the following of Jack Daniel’s, but their signature No 8. and No. 12 whiskeys have built a solid fan base for the distillery.
With the incredible boom for rye whiskey, it’s no surprise to see George Dickel get an offering to market. It is surprising, however, that the rye whiskey from George Dickel isn’t really Tennessee whiskey but sourced from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, home of MGP Ingredients (formerly LDI). Dickel isn’t the only company to source from MGP – a large percentage of the private label or relabeled whiskey in America comes out of MGP. While not all the whiskey from LDI/MGP is bad, for a category as distinct as Tennessee whiskey, it’s disapointing to see a company source their stuff from Indiana. Having said that, ultimately it’s what’s in the glass that counts.
George Dickel Rye Whisky (90 Proof / 45%, $24.99) – light amber in color, the Dickel Rye has a spicy nose with oak, cinnamon, rye, caramel, and an undertone of dark cherry. The oak is pretty dominant in the nose, but not unpleasantly so. The entry of Dickel is softer than the nose, with vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon leading the charge. The oak spice from the nose does quickly emerge in the midplate and while it’s joined by a rye spice, the oak really dominates. Toward the end of the midpalate there’s a fairly sharp oak spice spike that’s unexpected from a category of whisky known to be easy. The oak spice, along with a lingering caramel, define the finish which is quite dry and fairly singular.
Like Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel charcoal filters their spirits in a signature ‘mellowing process.’ This mellowing is what makes Tennessee whiskey so accessible and easy to drink. George Dickel goes an extra step with their whiskey by chilling it before the filtering. This is effectively a chill filtering, which removes some of the heavier elements from the spirit. In general we aren’t fans of this process – it tends to rob a spirit of its natural richness and character – but it is what helps make this category so popular. Here, the George Dickel Rye comes off as slightly over-oaked and then filtered down to be much softer (and then proofed at 90 proof to keep it from being flat). The nose on this whisky is nice, but the flavor delivery isn’t outstanding.
In many ways George Dickel Rye has a little bit of an identity problem. On the one hand it’s trying to be a soft, easy whiskey with a slightly sweet mouthfeel, and on the other it’s trying to be a spicy rye with some big oak. The result isn’t terrible, it’s just not outstanding. Rather than pushing the spice, it would have been nice to see Dickel favor the slightly softer and floral elements of the rye grain. If they were to take the kind of flavors found in Russell’s Reserve 6 year Rye or Knob Creek Rye, and then put them through their filtering process, it could have resulted in a rye whisky that could appeal to drinkers who want something a little easier to drink. But here’s where the issue of MGP comes in: Dickel really didn’t craft this whiskey, they bought it, and so what’s in the bottle had more to do with what 5 year stocks of rye MGP had than George Dickel’s whiskey style.
Ultimately George Dickel Rye goes too far with its oak notes with a finish that is just too dry to enjoy. As you’d expect, it does fine in Coke, but it lacks the structure and complexity to stand up in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. There’s a lot pressure for spirit companies to jump on to the Rye Whiskey train, but we would have loved to see a more integrated effort from Dickel and pehaps one actually made in Tennessee.