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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

George Dickel, Tennessee, USA

I was lucky to spend my birthday in 2013 visiting the two major distilleries in Tennessee and this was the first one. The thing that immediately struck me about George Dickel was the fantastic setting… perhaps only rivaled by Woodford Reserve for major US distilleries I have seen. The site is also the only distillery that is also a US Post Office… so another first for me and another useless piece of trivia. This site was actually established in 1958 long after the original Mr Dickel and his distillery had perished but all the recipes and techniques had been preserved and are still used today. The original site was a short way up the road and we snapped a picture of the entrance as we drove away later on. The tour I took was free (they offer a tasting tour as well but that was later in the day) and started with a short eight minute DVD in the very nice visitor’s center. Being the “other distillery” in Tennessee has clearly influenced their tour and messaging. When describing their distillery the words “unique in Tennessee” were used a lot which was interesting and basically shorthand for “not like Jack Daniel’s” and included the ‘facts’ that they burned all their charcoal on site, that they double distilled their spirit (which may not be technically accurate as I asked when I toured JD and they said they did double distill) and they chill the whisky before charcoal mellowing. This is said to be because Mr. Dickel considered the whisky to taste better in the winter than the summer. You may also note I spell it as whisky ie no “e”.  This again is a “unique in Tennessee” tradition said to be started by Mr. Dickel who declared (a southern gent always declares in my mind) that his whisky was as good as the finest scotch and so adopted their spelling. I bought two bottles at the distillery shop afterwards, the No 12 and the Barrel Reserve. I also learned that the different expressions are all the same grain recipe (84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malt), the only difference between No 8, No 12 and Barrel Reserve is aging. No 8 is 5 -7 years old, No 12 is 8 – 10 years old and Barrel Reserve is 12 – 14 years old. The Dickel Rye is actually made in Indiana and contains 95% rye (if you are interested). You are? Good. So was I.

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George Washington's Distillery, Virginia, USA

George Washington's Distillery, Virginia, USA

I can't say how excited I was when I realised I had a business meeting less than 30 minutes from this distillery in Arlington.  This is really more of a museum than a working distillery, but twice a year (March and November) the months immediately before and after the distillery is open for tours, they fire up the only LEGAL open fire stills in the United States and make whiskey to George Washington's original recipe.  The whiskey is extremely hard to get hold of and only available at the the distillery shop or the Mount Vernon (George's plantation a few miles away).  At the time of my visit they had sold out and I was unable to try it.  The tour costs a very reasonable $5 and consists of two major attractions... a working water mill (not original but an authentic recreation) which was used to grind the various grains on the Mount Vernon estate and a recreation of the original distillery based on an archeological dig.  The tour guides explain the history of the mill and George's decision to enter the distilling business very late in life, the disillery was built in 1797 and GW died in 1799, and how it was briefly the largest distillery operating in the USA.  More of an historical tour (understandably) than a whisky tour it was however interesting to see everything used in whisky making process on a relatively small scale and how it would all done by hand. 

Only one complaint.... no whiskey.  I feel that considering the relatively small volumes it can produce (open fire stills and whisky production is obviously limited to the times that there are no tourist wandering around) surely keeping it to pour at end of tours as a sample would be a much more democratic way to treat the limited production rather than seeing be snapped up by "collectors" and hoarded.  Personally I think it is what George would have wanted.  Add a few bucks added to the tour price for those who want a sample and I bet you would still sell for same price (or close enough anyway) per bottle.

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