You May Know Jack, But Do You Know George—Dickel, That Is?

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There are two things for which the area I’m from in Tennessee is universally known: Jack Daniel’s and Bonnaroo. However, just five miles down the road from my actual home is the man more revered in my house than Jack himself: George Dickel. Now, George Dickel was recently renamed Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., though those of us from Tullahoma will always just know it as “Dickel.”

And up until last week, I had never stepped foot on the property, despite having spent the first 18 years of my life in Tullahoma. It took my childhood partner-in-crime Tracy and her boyfriend Andy flying 6,500 miles from Tokyo to Nashville to get me there.

Don’t get me wrong: SVV and I are tried-and-true Dickel lovers. When I’m back in the South, Dickel ‘n Drop is my drink of choice. But it’s just yet another one of those things that we’d never gotten around doing…until now.

It was just a few days before Christmas, so we didn’t even think we’d be open, but a quick phone call gave us the answer: They’d be doing tours all the way up through Dec. 23 as long as people were stopping by. Typically, the tours start at 9:30am and leave about every hour, but during less busy periods, they sort of go whenever visitors drop in.

When we arrived, we were the only guests there; we spent 15 minutes admiring the Christmas decorations and perusing the general store before our tour departed.

There are a lot of old clippings about the early days of the distillery and the Prohibition Era that line the walls, as well as other interesting things to read. I could have kept busy for much longer than 15 minutes.

Then, our guide collected us and we made our way across the street. It was a strange day out: drizzly, but 60 degrees—just more of this bizarre weather we’ve been receiving in the South all “winter.” (It’s normally anywhere from 15 to 40 degrees this time of year.) Our tour guide, Brandy—she pointed out the irony in this—with the accent as thick as maple syrup, gave us Dickel-emblazoned umbrellas to keep us dry as we roamed the deserted premises.

I won’t give you the entire history of the place just in case you decide to ever make the pilgrimage yourself, but in a nutshell: George was born in 1818 but didn’t buy into the distillery, called Cascade Tennessee Whiskey back then, until 1884. Not long later, he died, in 1894. The operation relocated in 1910—long before the Prohibition Era started—due to Tennessee’s own Prohibition laws, and then shut down entirely when National Prohibition took ever, before resuming operation in the 1930s. Around a century after Dickel joined the enterprise, Diageo PLC took over in the 1980s; today, the company owns 64 percent of all alcohol production in the world.

At the end of the tour, we got to meet the distillery’s most beloved resident, Oscar. I half expected Oscar to be a dog or a horse or maybe even goat, but nope, he was in fact a car. Not just any car either, but a one of a kind: In 1997 a pair of Tennesseans built Oscar from ground up using old American auto parts and turning him into a 1910 replica of the George Dickel Whisky delivery truck. They then drove Oscar all the way across country to Tennessee from California (the same route SVV and I drove on our move last summer actually).

I can’t imagine driving 2,400 miles in this little ol’ thing!

While Dickel doesn’t do any of its own bottling anymore—that’s all taken care of in Maryland—it does sell the barrels (empty, sadly) for $125 a pop. There’s usually a pretty lengthy waiting list, but as luck would have it, there was one misprinted barrel leftover from the last batch and, on a whim, Tracy bought it for her dad as a Christmas present.

My Altima had stopped running that morning, so in a haste, we took my parents’ SUV instead—good thing, as the barrel just barely fit! I’m sure Tracy’s dad had a nice Christmas surprise, and I will be keeping these barrels in mind as end tables whenever we finally settle into a new home in Nashville.

And while I’m the first to recommend the Jack Daniel’s distillery tour to those visiting Tennessee, I have to say that I loved the homegrown feel of the Dickel tour even more. JD has become a bit more commercial, and rightfully so, with the tens of thousands of international visitors they receive each year.

Note: Since I first wrote this post, but Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel distilleries have upped their tour games and also added tasting options, starting from $14 for a full flight.

COMMENTS
  • December 26, 2011

    Awesome tour but I find it rather funny that the distillery is located in a dry county. Those barrels would make excellent end tables.

    • December 27, 2011
      Kristin

      So is Jack (Moore County)! I always thought it was just Lynchburg that was backwards and was shocked to learn Coffee County is also dry!

    • December 5, 2016
      James

      My family being lifelong residents and currently still residing on our working plantation since 1829, I can attest to the strange fact that most spirit producing counties in Tennessee are dry. Strange huh?

  • December 26, 2011
    Caitlin

    Wait a minute – Prohibition is long over but America, land of the free, has DRY counties?! WTF? This isn’t an Indian reservation or anything like that, is it?

    I will put this one in my files in case I ever make it I Tennesssee – then again I’m banking on you being home o you can be my tour guide!

    • December 27, 2011
      Kristin

      Lynchburg, where Jack Daniel’s is located, is also dry! I know, I know, it’s RIDICULOUS. But I think you’d be shocked by how much of the US is still dry territory…

      (Yes, I would love to show you the South! We’ll bring our own flasks of whiskey.)

    • December 5, 2016
      James

      My family being lifelong residents and currently still residing on our working plantation since 1829, I can attest to the strange fact that most spirit producing counties in Tennessee are dry. Strange huh?
      Land of the free? That’s the funniest thing I ever heard. No, it’s not a Native American reservation, lol. However, don’t be surprised on your visit if you do see plenty of Indians. President Andrew Jackson missed a few during the removal. My wife is 100% Native American. Father was of the Creek Nation and mother of the Choctaw Nation. She is gorgeous, previously a model, dark skin, black straight hair and black eyes. Now a school teacher, she still works out and runs regularly. Come on to TN for a visit. We are hospitable and would enjoy your company.

      • December 5, 2016
        Caitlin

        I hope I didn’t cause any offence by asking if it was a native American reservation, James. (And I’m sorry I used the term “Indian” – my original comment was five years ago and I know better now).

        The reason I asked is that in Australia, some of our indigenous communities are dry by choice, but this doesn’t happen in our wider society. I had no idea there was such a thing as dry counties in the US.

        Of course, I didn’t invent the phrase “land of the free”. That was Francis Scott Key. 😉

  • December 26, 2011

    We are Maker’s Mark fans around here; my husband collects the bottles. The smell of it always makes me think of college football games from long ago!

    • December 27, 2011
      Kristin

      Have you tried Bulleit bourbon? That is actually my all-time favorite. Mix it with ginger ale for desired results (e.g. a tipsy feeling, an overwhelming deliciousness)!

  • December 26, 2011

    You MUST have written this with us in mind 🙂

    • December 27, 2011
      Kristin

      It was more of a call to get you two to come to Tennessee and visit me than anything else!

  • December 27, 2011

    I’m still laughing about the name.

  • December 27, 2011

    I love learning about the more “off the beaten path” places. I’ve been to the Jameson distillery in Midleton, Ireland and I agree about the aroma!

  • December 28, 2011

    OMG, why have I never thought of putting whiskey in a SunDrop before. I absolutely must try that and soon. I’ve always been a Jack gal, though. I’ve done the J.D. Distillery, but haven’t made it to Dickel.

    • December 29, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s so delicious! Though truth be told, we use Diet Sun-Drop, as I think the real deal would be a bit too sweet. And if you’re ever in Middle Tennessee and bored, I’ll accompany you on that tour! =)

  • December 29, 2011

    You guys really know how to celebrate Christmas! Also, I love the barrel idea. Super cute.

    • December 29, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s not a holiday without a little (lot) of booze involved. In fact, we just returned from visiting my cousins in Memphis and managed to kill a whole handle of Dickel in 24 hours. We’re not light drinkers here in the South.

      • December 5, 2016
        James

        Yes, we are well seasoned in the south.

  • December 30, 2011

    Looks like you’re fitting back into the South quite nicely!

    But…Can’t wait to see you back here in California (soon?)

    • December 30, 2011
      Kristin

      Three weeks!

  • January 1, 2012

    The more I travel the more I think back to all the things like this I always wanted to do in my hometown but never had the chance to… when I get back I look forward to ticking them all off the list!

  • January 1, 2012

    I only just learned of this whole dry county thing and it’s still sort of blowing my mind. It seems so old school to me and foreign, in a way.

    Those barrels looks amazing!

  • January 6, 2012
    Jen

    Whenever we make the drive from Pensacola to Nashville, we always contemplate pulling off the interstate and doing the JD tour. We even did one time…after driving for about 20m we stopped in a teeny tiny gas station to ask how much farther it was (this was pre-GPS). It was going to be another while longer and we just wanted to get home. Are the tours worth the detour off of the interstate (when you have two children under the age of 8 with you)?

    • January 6, 2012
      Kristin

      Personally, I would wait until the kids are a bit older–or until you’re passing through the area sans children =) It’s really fun (and funny), but they might be a little bored at the moment.

  • January 6, 2012

    My hubby would LOVE this place!

  • January 11, 2012

    Cool Site. What do you use to post your content to facebook and twitter? It comes out really nice on there.

    • January 12, 2012
      Kristin

      Thanks, Brian! For Facebook, I just copy and paste the link into the update box; for Twitter, I use the Socialize plugin. I used Digg Digg before and really liked the interface and aesthetic, but it kept conflicting with my theme so I had to find something new to use.

  • January 18, 2012

    Cool, cool, how did you get you excerpt in on facebook and keep your website address from coming in? This is just a standard facebook post, no plugin at all? Also do you have a post on Malta or Phuket yet?

  • June 8, 2013
    John W. Ford

    Kristin,
    I recently just happened to drop in on the George Dickel Website many years after our pilgrimage across America from Vacaville, California to the George Dickel distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee to check in on Oscar, my mechanical son, I was gratified to see he is doing well. I discovered your posts from the George Dickel website and felt compelled to contact you. I am the one that the proud sons of the State of Tennessee that accepted me upon birth and I was, in turn, able to be the proud father and builder of Oscar that you met at the distillery. I swear, I wept tears of joy, to not only see my mechanical son, Oscar, again, but to see he is still going about what he does best; delight folks that meet him personally and proudly display a glorious advertisement for George Dickel Whisky upon his sides in front of God and country.

  • June 8, 2013
    John W. Ford

    Kristin.
    To verify my identity as Oscar’s father, our route to Tennessee from California was decoupaged on the rear doors to his cargo bay. Also, not clear in the picture, is the California license plate that unabashedly proclaims, “SOURMSH”. I admit the trip was grueling and I even kept a diary along the way. Another record of the trip is an originally purchased bound book of blank pages that we titled, “Oscar Shots” and allowed folks we met along the way to make entries. I still possess this book and have no idea with what to do with it. Perhaps I should send it to the distillery folks. Thanks again for your kind words regarding my mechanical son, Oscar.
    Sincerely
    John W. Ford

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