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.