An Expert’s Guide to Tennessee Whiskey

  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker

Jack Daniel’s is famous for its iron-free, naturally filtered limestone water (you can even buy bottles of it at the distillery), which is sourced from a limestone cave where it bubbles out at 400 to 500 gallons a minute at a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit. George Dickel, on the other hand, is still made with the same Cascade Spring water that the company’s founder, George Dickel, used in 1870 when he built his distillery in Cascade Hollow. Although Prohibition shut down the George Dickel distillery in 1910 (Tennessee embraced the prohibitionist’s creed in 1909—10 years before the rest of the country), when the distillery was rebuilt in 1958 it was relocated on the banks of Cascade Creek, a half mile from Dickel’s original site, so that the same Cascade Spring water could be used.

To be sure, Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel are the only two major distillers of Tennessee whiskey (although George Dickel always spelled the name of his whiskey without an “e,” in the Scottish style, as he felt his distillation was equal to the finest scotch). The only other Tennessee whiskey of note is the lesser-known Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey. Although Prichard’s is currently the only distillery located in Lincoln County, it does not use the Lincoln County Process of charcoal filtering. While some may hold that this, then, makes it not a true Tennessee whiskey, the legislature of Tennessee begs to differ. On May 13, 2013, Governor Bill Haslam signed House Bill 1084 stipulating that maple-charcoal filtering was to be used for all spirits labeling themselves “Tennessee Whiskey”—with an exception for Benjamin Prichard’s. Nonetheless, Prichard’s, using a recipe similar to an old family one from the 1820s, still resorts to aging its whiskey in barrels with 3 mm of char. Thus, when it comes to Tennessee whiskey, no matter the distillery, there can be no mistaking that mellow, honeyed undertaste that gives it such distinct character.

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