Tennessee has long been seen as a leader in the distillation of spirits. This state is home to a number of distilleries, some global brands and some small artisan whiskey makers. Not long ago, the Tennessee Distillers’ Guild in conjunction with many of the distilleries located in Tennessee launched the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. We recently visited George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee to get our first stamp in our Tennessee Whiskey Trail Passport. This post may contain affiliate links.
The setting for George Dickel is absolutely gorgeous. Nestled into the hills of south eastern middle Tennessee, George Dickel takes advantage of the limestone geology and natural springs to provide the crystal clear iron free water that is essential to making fine whisky. The drive to Cascade Hollow is nothing short of amazing. The lush landscape pulls you right in. You won’t find Cascade Hollow unless you intend to, and once you do, you won’t want to leave.
Hand Made the Hard Way
It doesn’t take long to see that things move a little slower in Cascade Hollow. On the tour you won’t find any computerized production methods. In fact even the scales that the use to weigh the grains are old beam scales. The corn used for the whisky is all from family farms around the distillery. The charcoal used for the mellowing process, a key step for making Tennessee Whisky, is made on site and carried to the plant by some of the workers in burlap sacks. Every step of the process is done carefully by hand. Nothing is rushed here, and the patience pays off. Dickel is some of the smoothest whiskey I have tasted.
George Dickel Does it Right
We arrived for our tour and got signed in. With about 30 minutes before our tour started, we spent some time checking out the gift shop and the rest of the visitor center. They have cornhole boards set up outside for times when the wait may be a little longer and nice sitting areas inside and out. You can even send a postcard to someone special (or yourself) from the old fashioned mail station.
At 2:00 our tour started with our tour guide Kara giving us a little bit of history about George Dickel and Cascade Hollow. George Dickel Distillery was founded in the 1870’s and operated in Cascade Hollow until it was closed by a state prohibition in 1911. During the prohibition era, George Dickel was moved to Kentucky. In the late 1950’s, Coffee County Tennessee passed legislation allowing the distillation of spirits, and the distillery was reconstructed in its original home in Cascade Hollow where it has remained, relatively unchanged.
After a short history, we made our way across the street from the visitor center to the production facility. Immediately upon entering you can smell the sour mash in the air. We made our way through each stage of the production facility receiving detailed explanations of the processes from our tour guide Kara. Photography is not permitted in the production areas of the tour so we can’t show you, but you’ll see when you visit. There is a lot of information to take in while you make your way through the facility; take your time and ask questions. The tour guides are incredible!
Next, we ventured into the barrel warehouse where they store the good stuff while it ages. This is another place where Dickel does it different. Many distilleries have warehouses that are very high and require the barrels to be rotated around to prevent uneven aging. George Dickel’s barrel warehouses are only one story high and do not require the barrels to be moved around. They believe this keeps the temperature consistent and produces a better whisky.
Just A Sip
After the tour there is a tasting during which you get to have a sip of some of the fine liquor that you just watched get made. We made our way over to the tasting room and sampled 4 different offerings, the Number 1, Number 8, Number 12, and Barrel Select.
George Dickel No. 1 Whisky was the first sample we had. No. 1 is an unaged whisky. It goes through all of the other normal processes, except for aging. As such, this whisky appears clear. It is 91 proof (45.5% ABV) and has a strong flavor. This stuff would be excellent in a bloody Mary or a margarita!
Up next was George Dickel No. 8 ; this is George Dickel’s standard Tennessee Whisky. It is aged in a charred oak barrel and pulls much of its flavor from this. This whisky is darker than Number 1 and has a much different flavor. Number 8 comes in at 80 Proof (40% ABV) and is an excellent whisky.
No. 12 was our 3rd selection, aged a little bit longer than the Number 8, Number 12 definitely stands out. The flavor is a little bolder than number 8, but finishes nice and smooth. A Double Gold Medal winning whisky, Number 12 is a 90 proof (45% ABV) whisky, and is regarded by many as the gold standard of Tennessee Whisky.
Finally, we got to sample Barrel Select. This one was my favorite by far. Barrel Select is small batch whisky made from distiller selected barrels, chosen for their flavor profiles. This whisky is smooth and balanced. Even at 86 Proof (43% ABV), this is smooth enough to drink neat and really savor the taste. This is the perfect porch whisky.
From the moment you turn onto Cascade Hollow Rd, you can tell that this place operates a little differently. To be such a globally recognized brand yet still remain a small manual operation is a notable achievement. You can see the pride that the employees put into their work, and taste the results in the whisky. Everyone we spoke to during our visit (Mike, Kara, Julie, and everyone else) was passionate about George Dickel both as a product and as a company.
Plan Your Trip
George Dickel is open for tours on Monday through Saturday each week (except for major holidays) from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. The last tour of each day departs at 3:30 pm so make sure you get there early enough to get in before that one. The tour is $10 per person. If you have a large group, or need more information be sure to call (931) 857-4110. Give yourself a couple of hours for the tour, and be prepared for a little bit of walking. The floors inside the plant are grated metal, so heels and open toed shoes are a bad idea. Be sure to give yourself some time to explore the area around the distillery too. While you are in the area be sure to check out some of these other great things to do in Tullahoma.