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Made in Tennessee: George Dickel

Posted on Monday, September 11, 2023 at 5:46 pm

 

 

NATHAN HAVENNER – Staff Writer

 Situated in the picturesque Cascade Hollow in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. continues to produce George Dickel Tennessee Whisky using the same techniques that company founder George A. Dickel brought to the valley during the late 1800s.

Today, visitors to the distillery located at 1950 Cascade Hollow Road, Tullahoma, can enjoy a guided tour of the facility to learn the ins and outs of the iconic Tennessee-made brand.

Tours begin in the visitor center and gift shop, where whisky aficionados will pass by a large bust of company founder George A. Dickel.

Born in Grünberg, Germany in 1818, Dickel made his way to Nashville where he operated a shoe store for about 20 years before getting into the whisky game in 1861.

“He decides he is going to open himself a liquor store, and he does that at the corner of Second Street and Church Street,” guide Jaclyn Parks said. “That building still stands and there is a little plaque on it commemorating his time there is Nashville.”

Dickel is joined in the whisky business by his brother-in-law Victor Shwab, and they begin operating under the “George A. Dickel label.”

“Now, they are rectifiers, and this is someone that is taking different whiskies from different distilleries, blending them to taste and bottling them under their own label,” Parks said.

One of the whiskies used by the company was Cascade Hollow of Tullahoma.

“They came to Tullahoma, rented horses and came to the hollow,” Parks said. “At the end of the day they walked away 2/3 owner of Cascade Whisky.”

About eight-years later, Dickel would sustain injuries falling from his horse, and remained an invalid until his death in Nashville in 1894.

Shwab would take over the family business, which would remain in family hands through prohibition before being sold to Schenley Distilling Co. in 1953. The modern-day George Dickel brand would be launched in 1964.

The brand has been owned by Diageo since the 1990s. Headquartered in London, Diageo is the second-largest liquor holdings company in the world with assets that include Guinness, Don Julio, Ciroc and Tanqueray.

In 2018, Master Distiller Nicole Austin took over the reins at George Dickel and set about expanding the product line offered out of Cascade Hollow.

“She is going to be the one that is going to help us rebrand from George Dickel to Cascade Hollow,” Parks said. “It is going to give her a little leeway to get away from that traditional Dickel flavor and create some fun and new innovative products like our Cascade Moon line.”

Those interested in touring the facility can choose from three different experiences, including the traditional Cascade Hollow Tour & Tasting, the George Dickel Bottled in Bond Experience and the George Dickel Single Barrel Experience.

Tours begin in front of the visitor center, where guests learn about what goes into every bottle of George Dickel Whisky.

That process begins with a 4x4x6 rick of sugar maple wood.

While it is common for some larger distilleries to utilize a large burn pavilion equipped with ventilation fans, Cascade Hollow is still doing this the old fashioned way.

“We are the only distillery in the state of Tennessee that has an open burn permit,” Parks said. “We like it because it lets the breeze that comes down through here pick all that smoke off our charcoal and keep everything nice and smooth.”

The charcoal will then be broken up dried for about a week before it is put into burlap sacks and brought over to the distillery for use in its charcoal mellowers.

There are some standards to a product being able to be labeled a “Tennessee Whisky.” These include being made in the state of Tennessee, using new charred oak barrels and mellowed through charcoal in what is known as the “Lincoln County Process.”

“Mr. George had a couple extra steps that he added in that he thought made is whisky particularly superior,” Parks said.

One of these extra steps is adding a virgin wool blanket to the top and bottom of each charcoal mellower.

“The first blanket is going to pull off the excess corn oil in the product,” Parks said. “The back end is going to work like a fine filter to keep any of our charcoal from going through into our finished barrels.”

Parks said Dickel also thought his winter whiskies were smoother than his summer whiskies and Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. is able to mimic that wintertime flavor with some modern technology. The charcoal mellowers are chilled to about 40 degrees year-round.

“It takes about one week for the whisky to make its way down through there, it is very tightly packed,” Parks said. “It seeps down through slowly chilled all the way.”

“So those two steps together are going to be unique to us,” she added. “You are not going to see them at other distilleries you go to.”

Another distinction between George Dickel and many other Tennessee Whiskey is the use of the traditional Scottish spelling for the product – “whisky” rather than the Americanized “whiskey.”

“Scotch Whisky was considered the premium product of George Dickel’s day,” Parks said. “He loved it and thought his was every bit as good so he took that spelling and we have kept with it ever since.”

Guests will make their way through the Cascade Hollow Distillery, seeing every part of the distillation process from the two nearly 10,000 mash tubs to the fermentation tanks and the three-story column still as well as the barreling process.

Cascade Hollow barrels are made by three cooperages in Kentucky.

“They are going to char them to our specifications,” Parks said. “For us it is going to be a level four char on the belly and level two on the top and bottom. That is about forty seconds and twenty seconds of flame.”

The charring process allows for two things to happen. First, it is caramelizing the sugar in the wood to bring out the flavor, but it also burns the cellulose out of the wood to make room for the whisky to move in and out of throughout the year.

After being filled with 83 gallons of whisky, the barrels are moved to one of 14 barrel houses located on the hills surrounding the distillery.

Guests will then make their way back to the visitor center where they will be able to sample some of Cascade Hollow’s product.

For more information about the Tennessee made George Dickel or Cascade Hollow Distilling, visit www.georgedickel.com.