American Whiskey Trail Tour, Day 5

George Dickel’s modest tasting room and gift shop. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

Don’t get me wrong — Jack Daniel’s is a very impressive company. Its sales growth over the past 40 years is mind-boggling. During the 1970 and 1980s, most American whiskeys saw their sales drop. They laid off workers and cut back on capital upgrades.

But not company the Jasper Newton Daniel started 150 years ago. It went gangbusters, helped in no small part by celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Michael Anthony of Van Halen, who guzzled it on stage. (Anthony even had an Old No. 7 electric guitar made.)

And Daniel’s did itself a great favor by taking a rather fanatical attitude toward execution. If they were going to make a bazillions cases a year, they were going to keep quality high. It presently keeps three full timers on the payroll to do nothing more than burn wood into charcoal, which is used to filter the whiskey after it comes off the still. It continues to use a copper still, and gets its barrels from its parent company, Brown-Forman, and nobody else. A Jack Daniel’s microbiologist cultures the yeast it uses by the thousands of gallons, and the lactobacillus for its sour mash. To call the Jack Daniel’s distilling crew control freaks is both accurate and a high compliment. No wonder the stuff sells in 160 countries.

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Jack Daniels vs. George Dickel

Many moons ago, we put these two Tennessee whiskeys side-by-side for a tasting. Which was best, the global goliath and cultural icon, or the less-well-known brand from Tullahoma?

To see, read the below classic review from the year 2001.


George Dickel No. 12 and Jack Daniels Old No. 7
by F. Sot Fitzgerald
The other night I was in a classy restaurant. Eyeballing their cocktail and liquor list, I laughed. “Look!” I said, leaning nearly into the lap of a woman I had just met, “They screwed up. They have Jack Daniels listed as a Bourbon.” She looked at me confused, and returned to her drink. I slinked back on to my stool and let her be.

Since I couldn’t tell her that all Bourbon is American whiskey but not all American whiskey is Bourbon, I’ll tell you. And if you know this already, well, then, skip ahead. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey. By law Bourbon must be made from 51% corn and it must be aged in new charred white oak barrels. Contrary to what some folks say, Bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky to be Bourbon (it’s not like Champagne, which must be made in Cham…you get the point).

Jack Daniels and George Dickel are Tennessee whiskies. What makes a whisk(e)y a Tennessee whisk(e)y is filtration, about which more is said below.

Jack Daniels Old No. 7 (86 proof) is made of corn, rye, barley malt and “iron-free” water.  It’s filtered (poured) through charcoal before going into barrel. It’s ridiculously popular but is a good whiskey.  It tastes of caramel, some vanilla on nose,  and charred wood close.

Very nice, but golly is it sweet! Still, it’s a good place to start if you are new to whiskey.  Just don’t stay there forever.  (Rating***1/2) Click here to purchase Jack Daniels Old No. 7

George Dickel No. 12, though less likely to appeal to whisky (note the “e”-less Scottish spelling of Whisky that Dickel uses) novices, is superior to Jack Daniels Old No. 7.  It’s distilled from corn, barley and rye, and as they note, it has “no preservatives, dyes, or strange  ingredients you can’t pronounce.”  It is double distilled then charcoal filtered through sugar maple before being “chill-mellowed” for 7-10 days.

What’s chill mellowing?  I’ll let the folks at Dickel speak for themselves:

“Somewhere along the way, George discovered that the batches of whisky he tasted during the winter months were noticeably smoother than the ones from warmer seasons. George learned that the chilled whisky became more viscous (thick), so it filtered more cleanly.  This produced an extraordinarily smooth-bodied whisky. He called the process chill-mellowing.”

Then it’s plopped into charred American white oak barrels and aged for no less than 8 years.

It’s just slightly darker than JD No. 7 and much more complex.  It has notes of honey, barrel, nuts, and a spearmint spiciness. (Rating****1/4) Click here to purchase George Dickel No. 12