Few debates feel as long-waged as the distinction between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Drinkers, whether casual or enthusiastic, will inevitably take a hard stance when pressed. Some claim that Tennessee whiskey is its own category; others insist that it’s simply part of the greater bourbon category. Then we have the Diageo-owned folks at George Dickel, who stirred the pot a bit in 2021 with the release of their latest product: George Dickel Bourbon.
Announced on National Bourbon Day that same year, Dickel Bourbon’s composition seemingly blurs the aforementioned line even further by labeling itself as bourbon. Per the bottle, Dickel Bourbon utilizes the brand’s “own charcoal from sugar maple for our signature chilled charcoal filtration process.” That certainly sounds like the ubiquitous Lincoln County Process mentioned as one of the two things separating Tennessee whiskey from bourbon (the other being the state of production). Furthermore, Cascade Hollow’s general manager and distiller Nicole Austin mentioned how “bourbon is meant to be more approachable and balanced, and Dickel Bourbon is a great entry point into our whole portfolio.”
One could easily launch into a rant responding to those words.
Regardless, Dickel Bourbon has since appeared on shelves aplenty, bearing an impressive 8-year age statement, approachable bottling proof (90), and list price of roughly $25-$30.
Nose: Soft, lightly sweet, and inviting with vanilla, honey-flavored candy, and Cracker Jacks. Light brown sugar and amaretto-like in a cherry almond way.
Palate: A touch thin. Follows the nose with light and standard bourbon notes of caramel, honey, and vanilla. Bit of butterscotch on the front to mid-palate and a hint of coconut. Brief cherry upfront too followed by sweet almond.
Finish: Oak shows with a mild drying sensation and lightly roasted nuts. Hint of coconut lingers, but more toasted here. Final hurrah of honey before closing out with a light hug.
Dickel Bourbon is in a funny spot. From a statistical standpoint, it seems like a great deal. For potential consumers, an 8-year whiskey safely above 80 proof for as low as $25 is extremely tough to beat. And unlike the other Dickel products I’ve had, the bourbon is all but completely devoid of the brand’s most infamous tasting note. So far so good, right?
My enthusiasm starts waning when we consider Dickel Bourbon’s actual drinking experience. “It’s fine” is what keeps coming to mind while drinking and thinking about it, which is code for “unremarkable.” In this sense you get what you pay for, but the aforementioned value proposition makes me want to be more lenient. Bottles in the $20-$30 price range are rarely inspirational, so Dickel fitting into that mold is more a sign of it meeting expectations. I suppose my recent exposure to 2020’s Bottled in Bond and a pour of the 15-Year Single Barrel made me expect a bit more than I should have.
Whether I recommend Dickel Bourbon comes down to who I’m talking to. If you’re relatively new to whiskey or prefer lower proof options, particularly when they’re value-minded, then it’s a safe choice. However, if you’re comfortably versed in bourbon to the point that most sub-100-proof bottles aren’t a consideration, then this will do nothing to challenge you.