Cigar Aficionado

Straight from the Barrel: The Other Tennessean Returns

Look lively, Jack Daniel. George Dickel is back.

When Bourbon was feting itself with it annual September festival in Bardstown, Kentucky, another American whiskey was making news to the south, in Tennessee. And for once, those stirrings weren't coming from the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, but from Dickel in nearby Cascade Hollow.

That other Tennessee sour mash resumed distilling in its home near Tullahoma, marking the end of a four-year shutdown that had temporarily made Jack Daniel's the only legal whiskey produced in Tennessee. Despite the shutdown, Dickel never ceased to be available. It has relied on its backlog of aging whiskey to meet consumer demand.

Resumption of distillation is good news to connoisseurs who seek a choice in the local whiskey. Tennessee sour mash whiskey is a spirit similar to Bourbon, which makes up the bulk of American straight whiskeys, but is distinguished by a charcoal-filtering method that is also known as the Lincoln County process. Jack Daniel, the original distiller himself, fought for the legal distinction that the spirits now enjoy.

Dwarfed for years by marketing giant Jack Daniel's, Dickel, nevertheless, is a highly revered whisky (note the spelling without the "e" usually used in the United States), especially in the South where it has been marketed to the outdoorsman. Despite the image, there is nothing rough-hewn about this whiskey. In its basic incarnation as the 80-proof Old No. 8 Brand, it is an elegant quaff with an apple-like sweetness, rounded out by caramel and spicy floral notes. As the 90-proof No. 12 Superior Brand, the flowers become perfume and it develops a maple-like leather note that makes it an excellent partner to medium- to full-bodied cigars. While becoming smoother, the No. 12 retains a complex library of flavors and enough edge to remind you of its backwoods roots.

The Dickel has gone through many transformations since its beginning in 1870. The founder, George Dickel, died in 1894 and the distillery was taken over by his wife, Augusta, who passed it on to her own relatives. The distillery was closed in 1910, when prohibition was introduced to Tennessee. Production was moved to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where Dickel was made until federal Prohibition in 1919. The whiskey returned to Tennessee until 1958, when master distiller Ralph Dupps built a new distillery near the original site at Cascade Hollow and revived original recipes. The brand passed through the hands of Schenley and United Distillers, before landing in the possession of Diageo, its present day owner.

After ramping up production in the 1990s, United Distillers backed off an ambitious marketing campaign and left the label with more whiskey aging than it needed. Master distiller J. David Backus has pointed out that the excess resulted in some No. 12 being aged as long as 12 years, or twice the time intended.

The distillery will begin production at 60 barrels a day.