Yesterday in part 1 of the George Dickel Distillery Tour we went through the entire process of making George Dickel Tennessee Whisky from grain to barrel. Today we wrap up the tour by taking a look at what happens to the whisky after it goes in the barrel. We also take a look at the Dickel tasting room and some other cool stuff.
After seeing where the barrel are filled we hopped on a tailer covered in hay bails and began our 10-15 minute drive out the back of the distillery and up the hillside. We passed their man-made pond which pulls double duty as a fire barrier and water collection reservoir. As we got closer and closer to the warehouses the trees in the forest started to take on a charred look, like there had been a fire, but fear not! It’s just a little fungus called Baudoinia Compniacensis that springs up near distilleries and barrel warehouses which create large quantities of its favorite food… ethanol. This fungus is how Feds tracked down illegal distilleries operating in the woods during prohibition.
As we approached the warehouse I started to get really excited because this… this is where the magic happens. Yes yes fermentation seems like magic (and for thousands of years it held that kind of a mystique) and distillation feels a bit like alchemy, but the real transformation happens here in the rick house. Here barrels quietly sit, minding their business for years on end, patiently turning new make into whisky; waiting for their turn to be bottled and drank. It’s impressive to look at but the smell, oh man the smell! I wish I could make this a scratch and sniff blog because the smell of a rick house is absolutely amazing!
After allowing us a few minutes poke around in the cool still air of the warehouse Allisa began walking us through how they get the barrels into the racks and what this crazy chart was we saw hanging by the door. Since the barrels weigh over 500lbs each when filled this is one part of the job where modern machinery (a fork lift) comes into play, but only after consulting the chart. What looks like a large game of Soduku is used to tell the guys what position the bung should be at, based on it’s soon-to-be rick position, before loading it on the lift so when they roll it on to the rick it will come to rest bung side up. Pretty neat ‘eh?
After spending time walking up and down the ricks taking pictures, feeling the wood, sampling some drying whisky from a tiny barrel leak and just taking it all in it was time to head back down the hill to taste the finished product. On our way down we once again passed the pond / fire break and I was again taken aback by the serene beauty of the landscape around them. What a place to go to work at every day.
Back at the bottom of the hill a full on southern spread from Blackberry Patch Catering was laid out and waiting. Okra, corn bread, pulled pork, fried chicken, mac ’n cheese, collard greens and all kinds of sides and fixins. After laying down some padding it was on to the tasting room for a full walkthrough of the end product.
In their tasting room Allisa walked us through their whisky in a slow, logical progression, but before we get to that I want to take a second and bring up a fact that got us all laughing a little. The little shack that George Dickel uses as their tasting room used to be where the Treasury Agent who oversaw their warehouses lived. He held the keys to their rick houses and if anyone wanted in they had to come see him to get them unlocked… and now we’re drinking in his living room.
First we started with the Dickel No. 1 which is unaged, but has still gone through the charcoal mellowing and has a sweet nutty, corny almost tequila like character. Next up was the Dickel No. 8 which has been aged for 4-6 years and has a nice corn heavy bourbon like character to it. Then we were on to the Dickel No. 12 which uses whisky aged for 8-10 years and has stronger notes of wood and spice.
After that we tried the Dickel Barrel Select which is uses 9-12 year old whisky and has some added notes of dark fruit to the wood, sweets and spice. From there we kicked it up a notch to the George Dickel Single Barrel and tasted a 9 year old pick out by the staff for the general store and it was brilliant. We then wrapped it up with their spicy, dilly, slightly sweet Dickel Rye which they’re honest about not making, but still treat it like their own and charcoal mellow it before bottling.
Then came the swag… that we had to buy (not complaining btw, just stating the obvious). We took one last look around the outside of this beautiful distillery in it’s quite peaceful setting and headed back across the road to the George Dickel general store where folks bought shirts, jackets, backpacks, keychains and all kinds of things neat and kitschy. Though let’s not kid ourselves, the only thing I wanted to commemorate my visit was a bottle of whisky.
I picked out a bottle of Dickel Barrel Select that I got Allisa to sign which is now sitting on my shelf and even though I haven’t opened it up yet, I can look at it with fond memories of the experience I had there at the distillery. George Dickel is a great brand with a fantastic distillery and warm welcoming people. If you ever get the chance I highly recommend you take a tour. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to give my fingers a rest and spend some time sipping on this glass of No. 8 I just poured myself.
Check out the posts done by some of the other folks on the tour. It’s all good readin’