The Joys of Tennessee Whiskey

by Ziggy on September 28, 2011

Tennessee Whiskey is bourbon that has been filtered through a 10 foot thick bed of maple charcoal. The process takes quite a while (we’re talking a few days from the time the first drop makes it way the whole way through).

Drinkers of Tennessee Whiskey will notice that it’s quite a bit smoother than bourbon of equal proof. This process is known as ‘charcoal mellowing’. The extra time it takes to craft a fine Tennessee Whiskey is totally worth it in my opinion. The difference can be noticed when comparing a bottle of regular black label Jack Daniel’s with a bottle of Gentleman Jack, which is charcoal mellowed twice. This is the only difference between Gentleman Jack and regular Jack Daniel’s. Now I’m a fan of a good bourbon as well, but even the most expensive bourbon’s don’t taste quite as good to me as a Tennessee Whiskey. I’m not a huge fan of the alcohol burn in any distilled spirit, and filtering it through charcoal definitely mellows the burn quite a bit.

Everyone and their brother has heard of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. But have you heard of George Dickel’s Tennessee Whisky? There are only two types of Tennessee Whiskey in commercial production today, Jack and Mr. Dickel himself. George Dickel is currently available in 4 varieties: regular #8 black label, #12 white label, Cascade Hollow red label and Barrel Select. The #8 black label is the standard variety, the #12 white label is the same basic recipe only aged longer, bringing more oak flavor and a deeper color. Both of these varieties are blended from multiple barrels of whisky located in the lower levels of the barrel house.

The Barrel Select is aged the longest, between 8-10 years and is bottled from a single barrel rather than multiple barrels. The barrels for barrel select are stored at the top of the barrel house which subjects them to a greater range of temperature variation. In a basic sense, this means that the barrels stored at the top of the barrel house are infused with more flavor than the barrels at the bottom. It’s important to note that all whisky is clear until it’s aged in charred oak barrels. You can buy whiskey or bourbon straight from the still but it is an entirely different product than that which is aged in a charred barrel, even though it’s distilled from the same ingredients.

I am not currently aware of what makes the red label Cascade Hollow variety different from the rest, but rest assured I will find out soon enough. It’s also important to note that while Jack Daniel’s spells their whiskey ending with an ‘ey’, George Dickel has kept to spelling their whisky without the ‘e’. When the recipe for whisky was brought to the United States from Scotland, Mr. Dickel decided to keep it spelled as is, while Mr. Daniels decided to Americanize it and add an ‘e’.

No matter how you spell it, I prefer a Tennessee Whisky (or Whiskey), to any bourbon or scotch in existence. There are some fine bourbons, as well as fine scotch products in production today. Standard varieties of Johnnie Walker cost in excess of $200.00, while crazy rare bottles are over $1,000.00. A scotch connoisseur will state these inflated prices as reason enough why their product is better than the American made Tennessee Whiskey or Whisky. I would like to point out that any Tennessee Whiskey is aged in an oak barrel that is used only one time. Rather than waste these barrels, both George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s both ship their oak barrels that have been used only once overseas. And guess where they are shipped to? The Johnnie Walker distillery in Scotland.

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