White Whiskey is an interesting category. It started small as a niche spirit category with only a handful of offerings, mostly from craft distillers who sold unaged versions of their aging whiskey as a way to help subsidize the immense expense of aging whiskey. The category probably would have stayed fairly niche were it not for the participation of a few major American whiskey producers, including early releases of Buffalo Trace’s white whiskey and Heaven Hill’s Try Box series including an unaged version of Rittenhouse Rye. As the category began to get some attention from consumer media, Maker’s Mark came very close to pushing out nationally Maker’s White, an unaged version of their popular whiskey. Maker’s pulled the plug at the 11th hour and what would have been a cornerstone event for the category didn’t happen.
Almost a year later, Jack Daniel’s took a stab at the white whiskey space with a fairly overpriced ($50) and limited Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye. There was a lot of debate about this product (as there often is in this category) over whether to call Jack Daniel’s offering “unaged whiskey” or just simply non-neutral rye vodka (due to the proof it was off the still). Instead of fueling the category, the Jack Daniel’s entry seemed to take some of the wind out of its sails. It wasn’t until Jim Beam released their Jim Beam Jacob’s Ghost, a lightly aged and filtered version of their popular whiskey, that the category really began to take off. Not only did Jacob’s Ghost dramatically increase the case sales for white whiskey, it was a solid endorsement for the category from one of the biggest whiskey producers in America.
It was probably only a matter of time before we saw more major brands dip their toes in the white whiskey market, and so it’s no surprise to see Diageo’s George Dickel jump on the bandwagon with their George Dickel White Corn Whiskey No 1. Considered the “Foundation Recipe”, George Dickel No. 1 is the same mashbill that George Dickel uses for most of their aged whiskies (except for George Dickel Rye). George Dickel’s mashbill is high enough in corn (84% Corn, 8% Rye and 8% Barley) that the unaged version of their whiskey qualifies as a Corn Whiskey (which must have at least 80% corn in the mix). George Dickel No. 1 also goes through a similar Tennessee Whiskey “mellowing” process as their other offerings by filtering the spirit through sugar maple charcoal. With George Dickel No. 1 the spirit is chilled first before filtering which helps strips a greater amount of the heavier oils in the spirit
George Dickel White Corn Whiskey No. 1 Foundation Recipe (45.5% ABV / 91 proof, $21.99) – the nose Dickel White is quite pleasant with sweet corn bread, yeast, and a hint of black pepper spice. Corn whiskey has a tendency to be a little edgy in the nose and it’s clear that the charcoal filtering has helped smooth things out with a fairly sweet bread-y character with just a slight edge to it. The entry for George Dickel White is more corn pop cereal than cornbread, and the yeast note on the nose is dialed back in favor of a much stronger black pepper note. In the midpalate it’s the pepper note which comes to the forefront with the corn moving into the back. The finish is fairly spicy with black pepper and clove dominating a fairly long and slightly dry finish. While George Dickel White does have some nice flavor and character, its finish isn’t a major departure for vodka drinkers, and we suspect that Dickel released White at 91 proof to enhance this aspect of the spirit. The good news is because of the slightly higher proof, George Dickel White does really well with ice and water. Adding some ice helps draw out the corn notes on the palate and helps tame the spice, rounding out the finish.
George Dickel White is a solid entry in the white whiskey category, and the use of Dickel’s signature charcoal filtering has managed to eliminate some of the harsher elements which make white whiskey less palatable. George Dickel No. 1 carries the phrase “mellow as moonlight” on the label, which seems to be a blatant attempt to associate it with the bevy of popular “moonshine” releases like Ole Smoky Moonshine and Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon. It’s an interesting move for such a major company like Diageo to tip their hat to relatively small players, but in many ways Dickel White is Diageo’s insurance policy to ensure they have a piece of the white whiskey pie if it every really grows.
Dickel White is an interesting gateway into the whiskey world for the vodka drinker and perhaps a viable alternative to the many honey and maple flavored whiskeys on the market. Both Jim Beam and George Dickel have shown that charcoal filtering of corn whiskey is a good way to create a product that’s flavorful but still quite approachable as well as mixable. While we quite like George Dickel White, we much prefer the aged expressions of George Dickel, including what we feel is the gold standard for Tennessee Whiskey, George Dickel Barrel Select.