I have to admit, this Tennessee Whiskey story has legs. I thought it would be just another debate that took place in the margins, between the bloggers, forums, and if we are really lucky a short unpartisan blurb on the Whisky Advocate blog. This is what we have grown accustom to with the big stories of our little whiskey world, but when you put Diageo up against Brown-Forman with the Tennessee State Senate as the octagon, you get TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and The Motley Fool throwing their hat into the ring as well.
I get why people on the outside find interest in this story. It is a bit of place intrigue between two very visible, publicly traded companies, and it is playing out in the US political system. That is clear to me, but what really caught me off guard is just how much the hardcore whiskey enthusiast is invested in the boundaries of Tennessee Whiskey.
I enjoy Tennessee Whiskey enough to order some at a thinly stocked hotel bar or on a long plane ride, but it wasn’t until Dickel released their 9 year, 103 proof and 14 year, 106 proof single barrels that I actually bought a bottle for myself. At $45 (mine was actually on sale for $35), the Wilbur’s 9 year Dickel was easily the most expensive Tennessee Whiskey I have purchased, and it was certainly the only Tennessee Whiskey I did not regret buying after trying it.
Jack has tried to break into this top shelf whiskey market a few times since this whiskey boom. Flopping over and over again, like with their latest $110 “Sinatra Select,” has to be embarrassing in an era of American whiskey where everything and anything labeled “Limited” or priced above $50 blindly sells out without question. Having a $100+ product collecting dust on the shelf in today’s market is not a good sign. To add insult to injury, the lesser known Dickel brand effortlessly slid into the premium market and continues to fill orders for their single barrels from all over the country.
The 9 year is about $45, and the 14 year bottles sell for upwards of $55, which is a price point well above anything Jack has been able to get a foothold in. The 9 year Dickel continues to be one of the most popular barrel buys in the nation, but unfortunately for Diageo, they only had a limited number of 14 year Dickel barrels. So limited in fact, that all of them were spoken for before Colorado was given access to their barrel program.
Even though this probably stings the bean counters at Brown-Forman, it probably doesn’t matter too much at the end of the day.
After all, Jack is the #1 selling whiskey in the US by about a million cases, and they are gaining fast on Diageo’s Johnnie Walker in Europe and Asia. Missing a sliver of the US market won’t affect their bottom line, but maybe their pride is bruised enough to where they are half cocked on issues like a flimsy bill that only sets Tennessee Whiskey back to about 7 months.
Quite frankly, I am not so sure a majority of Jack Daniels consumers wouldn’t enjoy a used barrel Jack Daniels, and if I were Brown-Forman I would strongly consider it knowing that Crown Royal is their only true competition domestically. Looking at the leaderboard from 2012, it is painfully obvious that the Whiskey-Coke crowd drives sales more than any other demographic. A used barrel Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey that barely taste like whiskey at all in a whiskey-Coke could easily be the next Fireball. As bourbon enthusiasts, we may look down on this, but from a business approach, being able to label that product a “Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey” would be enough to push Crown Royal back to the 49th Parallel and syphon off a healthy portion of Crown’s 4 million plus cases that are sold annual in the US.
The bottle I am reviewing in this post is one of the 14 year Dickel Single Barrels. This barrel magically showed up on my stoop thanks to a very generous friend of mine, so I guess you can blame him for yet another Tennessee Whiskey blog post. After trying my 9 year bottle, I was very eager to try the 14 year because I felt my 9 year lacked a smidgen of age to cover the corn forward profile and the twang of that Dickel mineral note that can be distracting. Five extra years could easily be overkill to get the profile I envision, but with the right barrel, a 14 year Dickel could be phenomenal.
It was picked in Nebraska by a store I have never been to, so I have on idea what made them choose this barrel in particular. I have heard people who preferred the 14 year to the 9 year, and I have heard people who preferred the 9 year to the 14 year, so it could go either way.
George Dickel 14 Year Single Barrel Review
The first sip from this bottle was pure oak and pepper, nothing like my 9 year bottle. It was probably somewhere around a flat C grade. After talking to my friend, he said the bottle got better as he drank it so I decided to decant half of the bottle in one of my spare glass decanters. After a week like this, the bottle opened up, especially the nose, and with a few drops of water in each pour, it became more balanced and much softer in the back. If you have a 14 year that is sharp, hot and woody, don’t discount the bottle before letting it sit and adding a few drops of water.
This review is from a 2 ounce pour with a water bottle cap of water added.
Color: Dark rust.
Nose: Noting like the 9 year. Heavy oak in the form of campfire smoke, and a light saw dust. There is a thick, sweet caramel, chewy caramel corn, honey, and big peppery spice, chili, and red hot cinnamon. Hints of cherry and apricot come and go which could pass as a flavored children’s medicine.
Sip: Nice texture, thick, somewhat oily. There is a notable sweet corn, and a small hint of that medicinal note, but far from the showcase of the profile like with the 9 year. A sweet honey, caramelized pecans and caramel corn, as well as a small trace of cherry pie make a decent sweet sip, but it’s short lived. The back quickly comes in focus, with pepper, sharp red hot cinnamon spice, tobacco, and a smokey campfire.
Finish: A short caramel corn and fruit pie, but mostly pepper, cinnamon red hot candy, and a smokey, char oak that is slightly short of bitter.
Overal Grade: C+/B-
This barrel really is a completely different animal than the 9 year Dickel I have. It gets the split grade because it needs water and some time to get to a B grade in my opinion. Right out of the bottle, it would be much closer to a flat C grade, but with some time and a few drops of water, it becomes very drinkable.
Still, I prefer my 9 year barrel, but they are a great one, two punch. It has one of the stiffest back ends of any Tennessee Whiskey I have ever had, and that is very interesting to experience with a few older Tennessee Whiskies on the horizon.
Drink this, not that: If I had to choose between the two, I would buy another 9 year before I bought a 14 year, and those are all over Colorado.
Jefferson’s will be releasing a 26 year Tennessee Whiskey which I can only assume to be Dickel as well. I would guess it would cost around $150-$175, but after tasting the less enjoyable profile in the 14 years, I will probably be hesitant to pay that without trying first.
You can get the Jack Daniels Single Barrel, and they even do single barrel buys, but it is $45 for a six year old, 94 proof whiskey when the 9 year Dickel is the same price for an older, 103 proof whiskey.