Since I finished a bottle of Jack Daniel's on Sunday night, I figured that I might as well turn to a bottle of George Dickel last night, both because the bottle was getting low and because George Dickel is the only other Tennessee Whiskey on the market. Specifically, the bottle was George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky (notice the lack of the "e" in "whisky", which implies that the original George Dickel either tried to conjure Scotch whisky with the name or that he couldn't spell), which is the older of the two commonly-available bottlings (No. 8 is the younger). As one would expect, it is similar in character to Jack Daniel's -- sooty and yeasty. It has more apple overtones than does JD, and with some time in the glass, it develops more vanilla aromas, which I like. It's a better whiskey than JD for about the same price. It's also 90 proof to JD's current 80 proof.
George Dickel is owned by Diageo, the corporate parent that also owns the Johnnie Walker Scotch brand and several big-name Scotch malt distilleries (Oban, Lagavulin, Talisker, and Dalwhinnie, among others). Back in the late '90s, one of Diageo's predecessor companies (UDV) started the Classic Malts Collection to showcase their malt properties. It was a stroke of marketing genius because it introduced the public to distilleries that they might never have heard of before and because it allowed UDV to charge a premium price for the spirits produced by them. The most commonly-available expression of Talisker is the 10 year-old, which sells in the US for around $50 a fifth, or about $20 more than most 10 year olds. That's due to a shortage of Talisker relative to demand, but what created the demand? Sure, Talisker is great whisky, but UDV/Diageo marketing muscle had to have some effect. Anyway, because of the success of the Cleassic Malts Collection and the advent of Jim Beam's Small Batch Bourbon Collection, UDV decided to start the Bourbon Heritage Collection to showcase the best that their American whiskey properties had to offer. The BHC included special bottlings from George Dickel, IW Harper, Old Charter, WL Well, and Old Fitzgerald. Shortly thereafter, UDV merged with Grand Met to form Diageo and promptly ditched all of these brands except for George Dickel. The BHC is now defunct, unfortunately.
The George Dickel distillery was silent from 1999 to 2003, which means that the younger No. 8 bottling is in short supply and will be for the next couple of years. I would imagine that starting in 2009, there will be a corresponding shortage of No. 12.