Update: The Wilbur’s Dickel is now being sold for $49.99.
Diageo was recently named “Distillery of the Year” by Whisky Advocate, while being on SKU’s naughty list at the same time. This spirit conglomerate mostly deals in overseas spirits, but is making a push to take some of the American whiskey market as well. Malt Advocate “advocated” that the huge price hike for Diageo run brands like Port Ellen, Lagavulin and Caol Ila was to protect the consumer from some of the bottles purchased at retail that end up on the secondary market for larger sums of money. This is an interesting thought, but it is pretty obvious that the distillery spasmed when they saw those dollar signs on the secondary market.
Instead of sidestepping or apologizing for the throat stomp Diageo gave the normal customers when Port Ellen jumped from £300 in 2011, £600 in 2012, and now £1,500 (roughly $2,100 US) in 2013, Diageo, with Malt Advocates blessing, decided to church up the sentiment and repackage the price hike as a favor to whiskey consumers around the world. You’re welcome.
I am thrilled that Diageo is looking out for us, but missing from Malt Advocate’s reasons for why Diageo scored big in 2013 was their extension of the George Dickel line which now includes privately selected single barrels of their only Tennessee Whiskey. For this, I actually am thankful for Diageo’s decision, and the prices aren’t an issue.
Dickel began allowing stores to begin selection both nine and fourteen year old barrels that are bottled at 103 and 106 proof respectively in mid 2013. These two Dickel selections as well as the convoluted yet exceedingly vague Orphan Barrel line are Diageo’s play to get in to the booming premium whiskey market here in America. While the Orphan Barrel’s intentions and sourcing is has been met with the ire of many whiskey enthusiasts, these Dickel barrels are being received very well almost every time.
The nine year has the most hype behind it right now, which is convenient because the fourteen year has not been brought in to Colorado yet. It is possible Colorado doesn’t see any of the older barrel selections because the orange label fourteen year is limited to under 60 barrels in total. It is unclear whether Dickel has more high age barrels waiting for future years once these fourteen year barrels are gone or if it will all end up being nine year barrels, but I will take what I can get.
This specific bottle is from the Wilbur’s barrel in Fort Collins. I passed up two other nine year barrels in Colorado in the same week because the Applejack barrel is selling for $50, and the Argonaut $44, while the Wilbur’s bottle is only $36. You can find the regular “Barrel Select” Dickel in most stores, but this is higher proof, age stated, and a single barrel selection.
Again, it is age stated at nine years, proofed at 103, and it is a Tennessee style whiskey, which means it is charcoal filtered which is also known as “the Lincoln County process”. The normal Dickel mash bill is reported to be a low rye bourbon mashbill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, so right out of the gate I am expecting a very soft whiskey.
Nose: Sweet corn, maple syrup, rich, caramelized oak, Valentine’s Day hearts, and a nutty pecan pie note that kind of reminds me of Woodford. There is some pepper and vanilla with very little spice. Somewhat of a medicinal note is in there that kind of smells like what sucking on pennies tastes like, and a rich leather and pipe tobacco that puts together a really nice nose for this brand.
Sip: Great medium-thick mouthfeel, but not overly oily. The sweet dominates the sip. Loads of sweet corn, spiced pecan pie, caramel syrup, dark berries, a hint of cocoa and a soft vanilla. In the back there is not much beyond some cinnamon spice, that vanilla that gets a little harder, and there is a sweet tobacco and a mild oak kick at the very end. There is also a strange bitter note that I would characterize as what many people are calling an “aspirin” taste.
Finish: The finish is great. Lingering caramel and honeyed apples and sweet candied pecans. Very, very smooth, which makes sense when you look at the mashbill and process.
Overall Grade: B+
This is a very soft, palatable whiskey that is proofed very well. Normally, I would dock some points for the softer back palate, but people buy Tennessee whiskey because it is softened up by the charcoal filtering. Considering the distillate is so low rye, it is not surprising how soft it is, but the sweet profile is markedly better than any other Dickel product on the market. Some sips feel like it misses the back of the tongue all together, which is probably what keeps it from an A grade, but overall it is very high quality.
It is the only private Dickel selection I have had, so I can’t compare it to how it stacks up against other selections but I like this one just fine. Honestly, I can’t imagine this whiskey benefiting from more time in oak. The oak already has a huge presence in the whiskey, and the charcoal filter removes most of the grain influence already. If the fourteen year is around $50, I might pull the trigger if I see one, but I have a feeling that it may be unbalanced.
Drink this, not that: The Tennessee whiskey market isn’t exactly diverse. For a single barrel selection, your options are these two Dickel ages, and the Jack Daniels Single Barrel which can also be chosen as a private barrel. I have only had the JD in a mini shooter version, but if that is any indication, go with the Dickel, even at the $50 price.
The regular Dickel Barrel Select ($30-$35) is a softer, younger version of this Dickel whiskey blended form about ten barrels. It isn’t the worst thing to have in front of you, but this barrel from Wilbur’s is far superior, with layers upon layers of depth in comparison to the normal Dickel Barrel Select.