Slow and Steady: The Formula for Great Tennessee Whisky
George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tenn. was my first visit to a distillery, though I have visited the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland. While touring the Tennessee distillery, I quickly learned breweries and distilleries are totally different. The process of a distillery is a slow one because it strains the liquid from the grains to get the condensed version of the alcoholic beverage while a brewery boils, steeps or mixes the ingredients. It was exciting and interesting to compare the two processes, and besides, I love a good Tennessee roadtrip.
A bright blue sky with a few wispy clouds was the backdrop to my Saturday afternoon drive to Tullahoma and, further still, Cascade Hollow. As soon as you exit Interstate 24, the lanes narrow from eight lanes to four and the landscape inches a bit closer. By the time you exit Route 269 and turn on College Street, it seems the city, traffic and all of life’s worries melt away as you slowly wind down two-lane roads amidst beautiful hills and greenery. Even in the dead of winter, the road that leads to Cascade Hollow is surrounded by landscapes that will find you scrambling for your camera. You’ll drive farther and farther away from civilization, turn on Cascade Hollow Road and arrive at the George Dickel Distillery where it’s been settled around its own piece of paradise since 1869.
George Dickel, founder of the distillery, fell in love with the crystal clear Cascade Hollow water and created “the finest sippin’ whisky in the United States”. He compared its smoothness to scotch and keeping tradition of the Scotch whisky spelling, he dropped the “e” in “whiskey”. His whisky-making process was a long and precise one. From the measuring of the barley, corn and Cascade water to the chilling of the whisky before going into the charcoal mellowing vats, he gave his whole attention to the detail of making a smooth and valuable whisky.
Business was booming until the Tennessee prohibition in 1910 and the federal prohibition in 1919. The distillery had to close up and for four decades remained dry and eerily still. However, in 1958, Ralph Dupps reopened the distillery and obtained Dickel’s original whisky manuscripts. Dupps continued the art Dickel began and the same recipe continues to be hand-crafted today, giving everyone a taste of history in each glass.
Tours of the distillery are free and open to the public. Your history lesson can begin in theVisitor’s Center where an eight-minute informational video gives you the distillery’s back story, along with 19th century artifacts like farm equipment, whisky bottles and other artifacts. My favorites were the old weighing machines on display and the ledgers with faded signatures.
You can take photos in the visitor’s center and outside of the distillery but camera flashing ceases while you’re inside. My tour was led by Cheetah Fletcher, the assistant manager of whisky experience and what an experience the tour was. Cheetah gave an in-depth explanation of how the George Dickel whisky is produced from initial creation to charcoaled barreling where some whisky will stay for 12 to 14 years. The tour takes about an hour to complete and it ends in the gift shop where there is George Dickel merchandise like bandanas, coffee mugs and, of course, whisky shot glasses for sale.
While the George Dickel Distillery is many miles away from civilization, therein lies the great beauty of the place. In Cascade Hollow, there are no worldly distractions. It is as though you’ve stepped back in time when the ways were simpler and everyone moved at a slower pace. As soon as you arrive, you will get the feeling this place is something special and you will be inspired to take a moment to listen to the babbling Cascade Hollow creek and a couple of birds chirping their hellos. In fact, you may want to jot that down on your To-Do List when you go.
Have you ever been to the George Dickel Distillery? Share your experience in the comments below!