Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: George Dickel Rye Whisky

"You see doc, I got this burning sensation in . . ."

I notice the good doctor defensively fold his arms over his chest and recoil ever so slightly while I am mid-sentence.  Before he can scribble "penicillin" on his prescription pad, I add: " . . . in my throat."

I was going to refer to another region of my anatomy to get a laugh, but he didn't seem to share my sense of humor or anybody else's for that matter.  Certainly not Eddie Murphy's.  Ever see his stand-up routine captured in Raw?  You know, the skit about "fire shoot out of my d---! . . ."  No?  My doctor didn't either.

"It's like I have a sore throat all the time" I continue.  "Or the beginning of the flu where your throat gets sore.  And, I am burping a lot."  I think for a nanosecond about conjuring up one, but then thought better of it.  If only I had downed a can of soda before the consult.  Dr. Pepper works every time.

I will spare you the next fifty questions and answers, and give you the diagnosis.  "Acid reflux."

I left the doctor's office with instructions to take 150mg of Zantac daily, give up tea, coffee and maybe lay off the alcohol too.  It took me two weeks to wean myself off coffee and tea.  Head aches and tiredness were the chief withdrawal symptoms.  Supposedly, my acid reflux symptoms would lessen.  No such luck.

I also stopped drinking any alcohol for like an eternity.

Okay, two weeks.

Like I said, an eternity.  Mind you I only have 2 ounces an evening from Friday through Sunday nights.  Yeah, two ounces.  Strangely, as I get older, I drink less.  I am also keenly aware that excessive alcohol consumption can damage one's liver.  In any event, my medically directed libation moratorium didn't lessen my symptoms.

At a follow up with the good doctor, he said there is something in coffee and tea that aggravates the condition.  Maybe acidity.  I dunno, I just start thinking about my golf swing when the medical jargon gets trotted out.

I have this tremendous ability to totally detach from a boring chat, but always nod and make the perfunctory "yes" or "really?" at the ideal pause in conversation such that the speaker thinks I am engaged in what they have to say, like a rottweiler is to a mailman's pant leg. In addition to medical lingo, certain other words or sentence fragments seem to trigger my disconnect when used in conversation:

"Coronation Street"

"I had a great vacation Jason, let me tell you about it!"

 "What?  You didn't see that movie?  It was so funny, especially when . . ."

"You are the wind beneath my wings . . ."

. . .

Fortunately for me,  scotch is not carbonated, nor is it acidic.  If I keep it in moderation there should be no problem.  Apparently there is a 'valve' of sorts in my esophagus and if I become intoxicated it could relax and allow more stomach acid up.  Just don't drink enough to relax it and everything is cool or at least Gaviscon minty cool.

So, I had time on my hands.  A lot of time to decide what I would review next.  After much deliberation, I settled on George Dickel Rye Whisky.

Now, I have to tell you I was worried about this review.  Think about it.  Ever go a long time without a favorite food or beverage and then you have it.  It's special, it's glorious or at least that is how you perceive it.  Why?  Because it has been so damn long.  You are so attuned to the flavors that you are overflowing with satisfaction with your chosen food or beverage.  This has happened to me.  My fear?  After two weeks without whisky, if I sipped the dreaded Ballantine's Finest or Drumguish Single Malt, I might think it is great.  My judgment would be skewed and you misled for relying on this fool's review.

So, to guard against such worrisome risk, my bottle of George Dickel Rye was subjected to repeated sampling over a couple weeks to ensure you received the most accurate review, and I can look myself in the mirror in the morning.

$24-$25 (New Hampshire)


Light, crisp and dry.

Nose (undiluted)
Cloves, grapefruit, charred oak and rye bread.

Palate (undiluted)
I taste fresh water, thin orange rind, grapefruit, and lemon seed before the rye notes come to the forefront.  The mid-palate is crisp, refreshing and very dry.

Finish (undiluted)
Tingling clean mint and lime with some charred oak and balsa wood.  Balanced, pleasantly sawdust dry rye and delightfully bitter apricot to the end.

General Impressions
I purchased this whisky in New Hampshire for the grand sum of $24.  I had somewhat low expectations given the cheap price.  I am impressed!  Once again, this whisky dispels the myth that the more you spend, the more you get.

The mashbill is 95% rye and 5% malted barley.  Needless to say this whisky is clearly a rye and well done because in spite of the 45% ABV, it is remarkably smooth.  The high ABV contributes great intensity of flavors and some subtle complexity.

You could add water, but I find it becomes too oaky for my tastes.  Drink it neat!

This is a must buy for any rye whisky lover.

Misleading Labeling?
When I bought this, I assumed I was picking up a bottle of Tennessee whisky.  George Dickel is a reputable brand of Tennessee whisky distilled by the Cascade Hollow Distillery in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee.  If you visit their website you can view the various impressive Tennessee whiskies they offer.  But, if you look closely, you will not find any mention of George Dickel Rye.  How come?

I have a theory.

I read the bottle label pictured above.  It  left me with the impression that this rye whisky is Tennessee, but once home I read it more carefully, and I soon learned I was mistaken.

"Our smooth rye whisky is inspired by the the timeless traditions and small batch craftsmanship that make our Tennessee whisky world famous."  (emphasis added)

So, the rye whisky is 'inspired' by the Tennessee whisky that bears the George Dickel brand.  Inspiration and location of distillation are separate realities.  Hence, the failure to reference the rye whisky on the website.

Below the misty eyed prose, that would make any lovesick high school student tear up, in capital letters the label reads: "DISTILLED IN LAWRENCEBURG, IN" and "BOTTLED BY GEORGE DICKEL & CO., NORWALKD, CT."

I thought this rye was bottled in Connecticut.  I was wrong.  Read carefully and the label states it is bottled by the George Dickel & Co, who are based in Norwalk.  I have read elsewhere that it is bottled in Plainfield, Illinois at a facility owned and operated by Diageo.

My initial impression that this rye was Tennessee whisky was also due to a failure to carefully read the side label:

The label gives a little history of George Dickel and how he crafted his Tennessee whisky.  So, reading it quickly, the average consumer would assume they are holding a bottle of Tennessee whisky.  Not!  Check out a great site on bourbon: The Bourbon Intelligencer for his observations on this point.

So, I guess what ticks me off is the lack of transparency and what appears to be an attempt to trade on the reputation of Tennessee whisky.  This rye is great.  There is no need to imply it is something else.  I am sure marketing people would tell me otherwise.  They are probably right from the perspective of maximizing sales, but wrong in terms of banking on the consumer not being a bloody Philadelphia lawyer when reading the label.

If you surf the web, some people vent about the fact that this whisky is not a true Tennessee whisky.  Me, I am not so disappointed that it is not that type of whisky.  All I care about are two features:

    (1) taste

    (2) price.

I am satisfied on both counts.  About the only connection between this Indiana rye and the Tennessee whiskies of the Cascade Hollow Distillery is the chilling of the spirit followed by the use of the same sugar maple wood charcoal filtering.

Anyone who is overly bothered by the fact that George Dickel Rye is not technically Tennessee whisky needs to visit a doctor for a check-up from the neck up!


Jason Debly


  1. Hi, Jason,

    Diageo (owners of Dickel) make no secret of the fact that they use rye whiskey from MGP, a supplier of whiskey to many brands that don't own their own distillery. MGP is, I believe, the only distiller using a mashbill of 95% rye. Many of the rye whiskeys you see on the shelf come from MGP (High West, Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Smooth Ambler, and others), especially if you see any mention of 95% rye in the mashbill.

    In the case of Dickel Rye, Diageo has added the additional step of charcoal-filtering the rye whiskey they purchase from MGP, bringing it a little closer to the Tennessee Lincoln County process that defines Tennessee whiskey, just like Jack Daniels and Dickel No. 12 bourbon are charcoal-filtered. I believe it is this extra step which is "inspired" by their Tennessee whisky.

    Since rye has become very popular recently, companies wanting to enter the rye whiskey market immediately do not want to lay-down their own rye whiskey and age it 4-6+ years, which is why MGP rye whiskey has become so popular--instead they can buy aged stock that MGP has been creating for a long time now. There are also technical difficulties with creating a whiskey from 95% rye, such that others cannot easily replicate what MGP does. So it is not surprising that Dickel Rye is not Tennessee whisky, and they may not have been interested in bringing a rye whiskey to the market if they had to create it from scratch themselves--instead, it's more of a branding and marketing endeavor.

    Unlike many producers who do not disclose sourcing whiskey from MGP, at least Dickel is honest about where its rye whiskey comes from, which I think is commendable. Too many other brands mislead about where their whiskey comes from, have "master distillers" even though they don't own a distillery (or even if they do own one, their own whiskey is still being aged and what is in the bottle was not distilled by them), and too many labels have some marketing story about finding their grandfather's "lost recipe" from before prohibition.

    If you like the Dickel, I would also recommend you compare it with the Bulleit Rye. Bulleit Rye is also a brand owned by Diageo and also comes from MGP; however, it is not charcoal-filtered like the Dickel Rye is. Also note that just because the rye comes from MGP doesn't mean that different purchasers can't specify a different age or choose different barrels in order to target a custom flavor profile. So, even if they're all from MGP, there can be differences between the brands.

    Lastly, Dickel is not bottled in Connecticut. Since Diageo's headquarters are in Norwalk, CT, you will see that listed on most of their brands, from the Guinness beer, Johnnie Walker scotch, Captain Morgan rum, and Crown Royal Canadian whisky that they import, along with their domestic products. The Dickel Rye bottle doesn't say "bottled in...", it says "bottled by" the company headquartered in CT.

    For a non-MGP take on American rye whiskey, you can also try some of Beam's Old Overholt and Knob Creek Rye, Heaven Hill's Rittenhouse Rye, Buffalo Trace's Sazerac Rye and Thomas H. Handy, and others. But many of the "craft" producers are reselling MGP rye whiskey.

  2. Hi Alex, your comments are very informative and I appreciate you taking the time.

    Your point that George Dickel Rye is not bottled in CT is well taken. Apparently, it is bottled at a Diageo facility in Illinois. But, if I am wrong please correct me.

    Respectfully, I disagree with your statement that Diageo that they use rye from MGP. Again, if you turn to the labeling (I added another picture to my post), I really think it is anything but transparent. Specifically, on the right side of the bottle, there is a little profile of George Dickel that states he had a "dream of crafting the smoothest Tennessee whisky around. George believed that to make the best whisky, there was one ingredient that he needed most - TIME, so we let our whisky rest, as long as it needs to, before we bottle it."

    I read that and at first glance it seems to suggest that the contents of that bottle contain Tennessee whisky that is made in the tradition established by George Dickel. No, that is not what it technically says, if you are a Philadelphia lawyer.

    Anyhow, thanks for commenting. You have great insights, sometimes so great, I wonder if you work for Diageo, not that there is anything wrong with that, and maybe you are doing a little PR damage control.

    I know one thing, the White House could sure use your skill set.


  3. Thanks for responding and updating your post.

    Haha, I worried I was sounding like I worked for Diageo. Wish I worked in the spirits business at all, but alas I don't. I tried not being too one-sided by suggesting ryes of other producers as well, but this is a Dickel Rye review so I tried to stay on-topic. Anyway, I do like how they have been more open about where they source their whisky from--in addition to Dickel (the rye only), both Diageo's Bulleit bourbon and rye are also sourced (currently from Four Roses and MGP, respectively), and I'm sure you could Google to find independent evidence of that (or look on and I'm sure someone has mentioned it). Of course the Dickel bourbon/tennessee whisky is made at Dickel.

    With regard to ryes, I like a few of the MGP products because they are so different--95% rye, with a grassy, minty flavor that some have derogatorily called "pickle juice"; I can't say they're wrong--if you look for it, I believe you'll even taste the dill!

    I do know for a fact that Dickel rye is sourced from MGP because many Diageo and Dickel employees have confirmed it to me at tastings and other events. As you say, if you parse the language on the label, none of the marketing language conflicts with that fact: their reputation does rest on their Tennessee whisky, and in their opinion they don't bottle (any) whisky before it has aged long enough. They also say they chill and charcoal filter all their whiskies. But their rye is not made in Tennessee, although it is "inspired" by their Tennessee whisky and is similarly charcoal-filtered. Unfortunately, whether it's bourbon or scotch, the labels are carefully drafted to imply much.

    The label also says "Distilled in Lawrenceburg, IN"--you'll see if you look at a variety of sources, including distillery maps, that only MGP is located there, and you'll see the same Lawrenceburg address on other MGP ryes, although as I said earlier, many of the "craft" distillers will intentionally omit a "distilled by" statement to hide that fact. I respect any producer that puts an unequivocal "distilled by" statement on their product.

    If links work in comments, you can also see MGP's press release mentioning their existing 95% rye product made in Lawrenceburg, IN, and some new products they're releasing:

    See also here for a VERY detailed explanation of Dickel Rye:

    However, as open as Diageo is about its sourcing of this product, don't expect to see it in writing in their marketing materials--the majority of consumers want to purchase the product with a good, old-time story behind it. MGP also has a policy of not commenting on any of its customers, even if the customers have admitted to using MGP. But ask a Dickel rep for an honest answer, and I'll think they'll admit it readily.

    As a mildly interesting side-note, since I've brought it up, Bulleit bourbon's label will say it's distilled in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (not Lawrenceburg, Indiana!). Four Roses is located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and I find it funny that both Bulleits are made in two different cities with the same name.

    I'm enjoying your other reviews, and I'll chime-in when I get a chance. I particularly liked your Johnnie Walker Gold 18-year review, but I'm certainly no fan of Diageo's decision to discontinue the Gold (and Green) in favor of a no-age-statement Gold Reserve.

  4. Jason, Thanks for the tasting notes. It's a nice Rye whiskey indeed. One of the hot topics we've been tossing around here (regarding this rye) is the impact of the Lincoln County (charcoal filtering) process. Dickel pumps its Tennessee distillate from still to chiller, then to charcoal stacks, prior to barrel contact. Their rye was produced by another distiller and shipped to Dickel via tanker after barrel aging. So it was charcoal-filtered much later, after around three or four years total of age, and only just prior to bottling. No doubt that the processing difference makes a noticeable difference in the effect of the charcoal mellowing step, but we're stumped as to exactly what those taste and aromatic differences may actually be. Cheers ! JK

    1. JK, I think their process obviously works. The end result is a great rye at a very affordable price.

  5. Rye does seem to be becoming very fashionable these days, I even picked up a bottle recently - my first! I might just stick to Scottish Whisky as Rye/bourbon seems even more of a minefield!

  6. Dear Jason,

    I'm 47 and I have the same diagnostics one year ago... it sucks, basically as everything "good" is bad for the tummy and the oesophagus.

    I also love whisky and I had to reduce intake. Once a week, a small glass. Big glass of water after!

    Red wine works fine, but stay away from beer or any thing with gas, including chapagne. White wine is too acid also.

    Avoid hot drinks as they relax de valve, and also minimize the size of the meals, as it is a mechanic thing.

    Last thing, chew everything so they don't linger in the stomach and avoid industrial pastries, it is the worst because of the long molecules produced by baked margarine.

    And yes, orange juice and coffee need to be reduce. Tea doesn't help (hot beverage!).

    On the positive side, we become very happy when we appreaciate a good dram...

    Thanks for the blog!


  7. Hi Jason,

    Same problem of reflux for one year now (runs in the family). One has to reduce size of almost everything and chew very well to avoid lingering of things in the tummy.

    Red wine is fine for me with meals, but not beer or any gased drink.

    I enjoy now smaller amounts of whisky, rinsed with lots of water afterwards.

    Thanks for a great site and take care,


    1. I am now taking Tecta as the Zantac was insufficient. This is a really annoying condition.

      I find that scotch does not aggravate it. Beer certainly does though.

    2. Jason, Thanks for the review. I think you nailed it. Dickel # 12 is one of the great values out there and the rye version is also excellent.

      As to the reflux. I was diagnosed with it over ten years ago. With a little caution, I am seldom bothered by it anymore. Some things that have helped me. I hope they might help you.

      Cut out margarine and similar fats. They tear me up for some reason. Butter, olive oil and canola oil are fine.

      Eat smaller meals. Being overstuffed is always a problem.

      Don't lie down completely flat or on your right side. There's something about those positions that made the condition worse. Lying on the left side was OK.

      Avoid LARGE amounts of strong, black coffee (the only way I drink it). Maybe it's the acidity. A few cups during the day doesn't bother me. This isn't a problem now that I'm retired but it was a terrible problem when first diagnosed with headaches, etc., as you noted. Tea never bothered me.

      I only drink beer or wine with a meal. Carbonation, as such, isn't a problem.

      As to hard liquor: try small amounts, less than an ounce, sipped neat and SLOWLY over a couple of hours. This lets me enjoy the taste (and cuts back on my liquor expenses). Adding water or ice to dilute also helps but I only do this with booze that isn't my favorite and during the heat of summer.

      Despite the acidity, vinegar and lemon juice sit well for me but your reaction may be different.

      Very spicy and oily foods are a big problem.

      Judging by your photo this isn't a factor, but weight loss helped. I was hugely obese which may have helped trigger the condition. I have lost 130 pounds, so far, and as the weight comes off, the reflux symptoms have eased.

      I started off taking a Zantac-like medicine but as the weight came off and I got smarter with meals, I was able to drop the medicine with my doctor's approval. Haven't needed any for several years now.

      I hope some of these experiences can be of help.

      Jeff The Bear

    3. I am still really struggling with the acid reflux. I've got it real bad. Didn't want to go on about it too much in the post, but I am still struggling with it.

      Before I went to the doctor, I was drinking a lot of black coffee, particularly black Italian espresso that one makes in a Moka pot.

      While I gave up coffee for about two or three weeks, I am back on it, just one cup a day, but I add cream to reduce acidity.

      Overeating is a big trigger for me. I have never met a food I didn't like, but I really have to learn the meaning of portion control. I could also lose about 20lbs asap.

      The zantac didnt work and now I am on Tecta and so far it is even less effective. So, I will be going back to that doctor.

      Thanks again for the tips, I will do my best to incorporate them into my life.

  8. BTW I just returned from London and Europe in general. Bought a Talisker Dark Storm matured in charred casks. It is apparently not available in stores. I tried it at the Duty Free shop at Heathrow, I liked it.

  9. Hello, everyone. Enjoyed the article and the reviews. I would describe myself as slightly more that a novice when it comes to describing whisky. First off the Scotch's are my favs without question (which explains the missing 'e').

    I started sampling rye a little over a year ago, off hand I've had Bulleit, Templeton, Sazarac, Jim Beam, Templeton, Rittenhouse, and lastly George Dickel. I would have to say I like Dickel the best. Sazarac was good too but I don't think it's worth the effort to find - now if I come across some I'll buy - but I'm not going much out of my way.

    With that said, I was not offended by Dickel's labeling. What, is there only 6 or so distillers able to call their whisky "Tennessee"? For sure, Tennessee Whisky is going to be on the front label, especially when looking at the other Dickel bottles right next to the green label. I knew it wasn't Tennessee. Then I looked at the back and saw "Distilled by . . " Still, I bought it and thought it was rather good.

    A couple of you mentioned reflux. I would venture a guess you are suffering from some level of sleep apnea. When that happens you create a vacuum and draw up the acid stomach fluids.

    Anyways, thanks again, I enjoyed the read.

  10. Prilosec. Worked for me. And Robert, you're spot on about the apnea.

    I look forward to trying the Dickel's Rye. I can no longer find Russell's Rye and it was my absolute favorite.

    1. I am on Tecta now. Seems to be working better, but it is really important that I do not over eat. Stress has been less for me lately too, and I think that helps.

      Dickel is good stuff. I think you will like it.

      Thanks for commenting and have a happy Christmas!

  11. I didnt detect any orange but more a lemon Sharbat note that seem more bicarb. Also noticed a pine taste and lack of body. Nothing really mashed togther well too. I liked the Orange soda note I got in WT 101 Rye. Dickel Rye is simply 90% Bulliet Rye or some indiana rye lot then coated with Dickels maple filtering. It's not even listed on Dickel's Website. Bulliet did a 90% rye in the Green bottle from that exact source. I'm no Bulliet fan. Dickel has a No 1 white whisky now from their exact mash bill but it's not shipped outside USA and doubt Canada. Reviews says it has a nice thick mash feel. And I really like that in Dickel. The dickel 8 and 12 I buy and import keeps varrying. Some are so balanced with a cool mouth entry andhas a big bold soft jaw biting feel with loads of fine bbq soft timber char in the finish. Wish I could have this all the time. Others have been boiling hot in mouth and acidic. I'm drinking 8 and 12 in the new trendy diageo bottle. Not bad. A little hot but not boiling. Reminds me of bushmills black bush with that big tropical hunk of malt with a intense sherry chocolate infusion flavor. No bbq char really came in with these unfortunly. It's just bold and intense and richer. I dont even recall this sherry choc like flavor in any old bottlings. I think I went on a rant somewhere after the Dickel Rye lol.

  12. I had acid reflux, notice I say had it. I was starting to have some blood sugar issues from my diet and the Doc said hey you, go on a diet and drop that extra weight. So I have gone to a natural diet. Which means I eat a lot of veggies and small amounts of meat and eat app 5 times a day. I still have a two or so ounces of something several times a week of vodka, Dickel, Patron, and wines. But my issues with acid reflux are gone not had a attack in almost 2 months and have lost 35 pounds. Anyway I use to do meds of all kinds and a lot didn't work and changing my diet and way I eat did. Oh FYI I use more spices now and can still do my homemade salsa which I like hot and no issues.

    1. I will take the advice. It is still a struggle. Thanks!