A great whiskey is always a joy to drink, but a great whiskey with a great story behind it elevates the entire experience. We love to be able to regale our friends with backstories of the drams we’re pouring. Some of the stories are true, some are false, and most are somewhere in between. In the case of George Dickel Distillery Reserve Collection 17 Year Old Tennessee whiskey ($125), it seems to have been a happy accident that created Dickel’s oldest bottling.
While hunting for barrels to use in a 9-year-old bottling, the distillery apparently “discovered” a small group of “forgotten” barrels of advanced age. It’s a claim that’s often made by Dickel’s parent company, Diageo; its Orphan Barrel series of whiskey one-offs is based on the premise. But whether or not it’s here purely by chance, Dickel’s 17 Year Old is a welcome arrival.
Dickel uses the same mash bill across its portfolio: 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye, and 8 percent malted barley. The difference between Tennessee whiskey (Dickel, however, uses the Scottish spelling—without the “e” on its labels) and Kentucky bourbon, apart from geography, is the Lincoln County Process in which the whiskey is filtered through maple charcoal after distillation to remove impurities, giving the final product a lighter, dryer flavor than many bourbons.
The 17 Year Old follows Dickel’s protocol except for the extra aging, so it’s a fascinating look at how the extra years in wood have affected the spirit. In this case, the vanilla and caramel notes, along with hints of citrus, are tempered by the tannins from the oak, which impart a dry spiciness. Dried fruit and menthol, along with oak and spice, return on the finish.
The bad news is that, for now at least, the 17 Year Old is available only at Dickel’s Tullahoma distillery and select stores in Tennessee. The good news is that it’s an ideal excuse to take a trip to Nashville. And we can hope there are more barrels waiting to hit their 17th birthday in the Dickel warehouses—this time, on purpose.