TULLAHOMA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Brown sugar, dates and cloves and buttered popcorn are all notes general manager and distiller, Nicole Austin uses to describe the infamous Tennessee whiskey she spends her days crafting.
“The water is our best connection to the history of this whiskey and to the 1870’s,” Austin explained. “Back in the 1800’s one of your key considerations would have been hiding from the authorities.”
That connection to history is evident in every aspect of the whiskey-making process.
“Sometimes the old ways are the best ways,” Austin said. “You can still see some of the old aspects of the history in our distillery, right? Like those old engines used to be used to turn the agitators for the mash tubs, so there’s a lot of artifacts still around in the distillery.”
Austin and her team turn two mashes a day.
She refers to George Dickel as the Goldilocks of distilleries; not too big, not too small, just the right size to be crafty and creative without being massively commercial.
“This room is really the origin of the Dickel character so this is where we take our mash, which is a high corn mash. It’s 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye, 8 percent malt and then add yeast into fermentation. This is where you get a lot of that big, fruity complex flavor development,” Austin said. “I think you can see from these fermenters that this is where the water becomes really important.”
The special Dickel concoction ferments for three to four days, becoming distillers beer.
“Whiskey’s basically distilled beer. They’re quite closely related. One of the major distinctions us we don’t use hops,” said Austin.
“This is where distillation happens,” she went on to explain. “What you’re looking at here, this is our stripping still. So the beer is fed into this still, it falls down all of these trays, steam rises up and it carries alcohol with it. What’s unique about Dickel is we chill our whiskey before it goes through charcoal mellowing, so we really lean into this charcoal mellowing process. We make this very big, rich, very flavorful distillate, and then we use the charcoal mellowing to selectively take out some of those characters that would maybe be a little bitter. So you still have this big, fruity bold whiskey but it’s smooth and that’s what the charcoal mellowing does for us.”
From there, the whiskey is poured into a barrel and aged for seven years, becoming one step closer to landing in your glass.
“This whiskey, I would say, is exactly what Tennessee whiskey should be. It’s rich, it’s complex, it’s bold,” Austin said as she noses their tried and true Dickel No. 12.
Austin proudly concocted George Dickel’s newest release, a limited edition 13-year-old whiskey called Bottled in Bond.