As we have learned with Bourbon (especially those of you that attended our Bourbon Class: Styles and History), the legal definition of various styles of whisk(e)y are not always what is commonly believed. For instance, Bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, but it does have to be made in the U.S. To be Bourbon, the whiskey’s mash bill must be 51% or more of Corn with the remainder composed of Barley, Wheat and/or Rye. After some technical requirements on the proof of distillation and dilution, the new make is poured into charred virgin white oak barrels. The barrels are stored for a period of 2 years (4 for Bonded Whiskey), and then the new whiskey is bottled above 80-proof (100-proof for Bonded). A whiskey labeled “Kentucky Straight Bourbon” does indeed have to be produced in Kentucky. Likewise, “Tennessee Whiskey” is bourbon that must be made in Tennessee, with one additional requirement: the Lincoln County Process.
The Lincoln County Process is a filtering process required by Tennessee Whiskey producers and used by some Bourbon and Scotch distilleries. Once the new make is freshly distilled, it is poured through or soaked in charcoal chips. This method pulls out some impurities in the whiskey, but it also lends itself to a creamier texture. In 2013, this method became legally required for all whiskies to be named “Tennessee Whiskey,” with the exception of Benjamin Prichard’s, having been grandfathered in. Our selection this month, George Dickel, adds one additional step.
George Dickel was born in 1816 and developed a reputation for crafting the most-mellow whisky. He attributed this character to distilling during the winter months. He believed the cold temperature added an additional level of “mellowness” to his whisky. Geo. A. Dickel & Co. found much success up to Prohibition and was even rebranded and sold as medicinal whiskey called "Cascade Whiskey." Move forward 40 years and a new distillery opened producing “Geo. A. Dickel Tennessee Whisky,” and they still follow George’s practice by cold-filtering their whisky prior to aging.
So, why Tennessee Whiskey?
What is so special about Tennessee Whiskey? Well, the extra charcoal filtering does add a noticeable richness to the body. I recommend tasting a variety of bourbons side by side to experience this.
Bourbon A – low/med-rye recipe:
There is an extreme sweetness in the aroma, bordering a chemical acetone smell, but it dissipates with air. Overripe berries and figs are coated in brown sugar, pine resin and molasses which are then accompanied by a cup of chamomile tea. The palate is rich with a copper-like sweetness. A refreshing zip across the mid-palate lightens up the body and helps balance the strong tannic finish, an indicator of this bourbon’s extended age. Overall, this is a sweet, rich bourbon that comes across as more floral than spicy.
George Dickel Barrel Select (low-rye recipe):
The Dickel Select shows some similar notes: pine resin, sap, and molasses, but also shows some darker notes such as toffee and caramelized banana. The aroma also shows more of a bready character. Fresh rye bread is apparent, which is curious, as there is less rye in this mash bill than the Bourbon #1. The palate is noticeably denser without carrying the same tannic finish. When combined with the body, the aromas promote dense bread pudding, yet with a peppery character. A second approach invites whiffs of bananas foster with a similar floral tea, but perhaps more mint tea with a touch of honey. The second sip becomes even denser, as your senses are now accustomed to the high alcohol. Pure molasses, both in taste and texture.
Both whiskies are well crafted and quite complex. There is a richness in the George Dickel that the first Bourbon lacks, but Bourbon A (Blanton’s by Buffalo Trace) makes for a more refreshing drink. I strongly recommend having a glass of Blanton’s before dinner, and a dram of George Dickel Barrel Select after!