Our journey along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail took us south on a recent Saturday. On this outing, we were joined by some friends from church, as well as our trail mates John and Donna. All together, eleven of us made our way to Shelbyville for a visit to Nearest Green Distillery and then over to Tullahoma for a stop at George Dickel Distillery.
Dubbed by someone (I’m not exactly sure who) as Malt Disney, Nearest Green Distillery is very polished, professional, and intentional. The facilities are first-class, and everyone who works there is well-trained and great at their job.
The distillery and whiskey are named after Nathan Nearest Green, a former slave who taught Jack Daniel the art of distilling. He also became Jack’s first master distiller and was instrumental in the development of the Lincoln County Process, which is the process of filtering whiskey through sugar maple charcoal. The folks at Nearest Green do a great job of telling the story of Nearest Green and his impact on history and the industry.
The tour begins with a little history and then a stop at a concession stand (not open on this day) where only Tennessee products are sold.
The next stop is behind the concession stand in what is advertised as the world’s only non-alcoholic speakeasy. That seems like an oxymoron to me, but the room is executed very well, and the history you hear on this stop is nothing short of fascinating. After you leave the speakeasy, you take an extended tour of the grounds, see the building that houses the soon-to-be-operational still, and try your hand at labeling some bottles.
At the end of your tour is the payoff – a tasting of three whiskeys sold (not yet made, though) by Nearest Green Distillery. On this day, that tasting involved Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Whiskey, Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition Premium Whiskey, and Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey.
The 1884 Small Batch is aged 7 years and bottled at 93 proof. They don’t disclose their mash bill, but I can say this whiskey is smooth. It has a distinct “Tennessee Whiskey” flavor profile. I pick up notes of oak, dried fruit, and something sweet, perhaps butterscotch. Many of these same elements are present in the aroma, as well. It has a warm finish, again, like most Tennessee Whiskeys. Overall, this is a very pleasant glass of whiskey.
The 1856 Premium Whiskey is bottled at 100 proof, but to me, seems smoother than the 1884. When tasting, I noticed vanilla, nuts, and oak. It has a spicy flavor to it, as well. The smell is more floral, with hints of caramel and vanilla. I actually preferred this whiskey over the lower proof 1884, especially when an ice cube is added.
The Master Blend Edition is new, and it’s the first whiskey from Nearest Green to be contract-distilled. It was distilled and aged according to the exact specifications of the team at Nearest Green. I don’t know who did the actual distilling, but the result is a fantastic whiskey that is altogether different from their other offerings. Bottled at 118.4 proof, it will deliver a little more heat than the other whiskeys from Nearest Green. The nose is floral and fruity, with some spice – perhaps cinnamon. On the palate, you still get the fruit, along with some woodsy flavor. When this whiskey has aged a little more – if it’s allowed to – it will be a fine example of Tennessee “sippin” whiskey. Currently, this whiskey is available for purchase only at the distillery.
Within the next few months, Nearest Green plans to start distilling their own whiskey. Due to the aging requirements, however, it will be a few years before we taste anything made on-site. Not to worry, though. The whiskey they source, as well as the whiskey they have distilled for them, is excellent and worthy of your consideration.
After a quick stop at the Barrelhouse BBQ (on the grounds of Nearest Green Distillery), we made our way to Tullahoma, the home of Cascade Hollow Distilling Company, maker of George Dickel Whisky. Note: George Dickel spells whiskey without the “e”, so for the remainder of their review, so will I.
Nestled in a hollow several miles outside the city of Tullahoma, Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. is aptly named. Once you arrive and get settled, it’s hard to leave. It’s also a hard to believe this seemingly small operation produces the second most barrels of whisky in the state of Tennessee.
Our tour at Dickel was much more personal and intimate than at our previous stop, and we got to see more of the whisky production process, as well. We also got the complete history of George A. Dickel and how he came to America and started making whisky.
At its core, George Dickel is a true Tennessee Whisky, meaning it’s made with the proper mix of ingredients, filtered, and aged in a way that is required to be called a Tennessee Whisky. What sets Dickel apart is actually two things. First, George noticed whisky he made in the colder months had a smoother flavor. As a result, all whisky made at Cascade Hollow is cold-filtered, meaning they chill the whisky when filtering it through the sugar maple charcoal they use in the Lincoln County Process. Second, in addition to filtering through sugar maple charcoal, they also layer their mellowing vats with virgin wool blankets. The result is extremely smooth whisky that is consistent across the brand.
After our tour of the production facility, we returned to the main building for a stop at the tasting room. Here we tasted four whiskies (sorry, the “e” is required for the plural).
First up was George Dickel No. 1. This is an un-aged corn whisky bottled at 91 proof. It’s what most folks refer to as moonshine, only it’s not, because it’s produced legally and properly taxed. It’s the foundation of George Dickel Whisky. It’s smooth and mellow, sweet with a corn-forward taste. It smells a lot like grain alcohol, which makes sense, because that’s exactly what it is. The mash bill is 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed this whisky.
Next, we sampled Dickel’s number one seller, the white-labeled George Dickel No. 12. This whisky has the exact same mash bill as the No. 1, but it’s aged in white oak barrels before bottling. On the nose, it’s sweeter than No. 1, and you also get a touch of woodsiness and vanilla. When I tasted it, I picked up notes of oak, vanilla, and a little maple. It was very smooth.
Third was my heretofore favorite offering from George Dickel, their 8-year-old Bourbon. This is a new product for them, obviously years in the making, but selling very well. Dickel uses the same mash bill for all their whiskies, relying on the aging process to differentiate the final product, so this bourbon has the same 84/8/8 mash bill as the previous two whiskies. This bourbon, however, stands out from their other products in a profound – and pleasing, at least to me – way. I get more fruitiness on the nose, as well as vanilla and toffee. When tasting, I pick up hints of vanilla, cherry, and orange, with some oak on the finish. It’s bottled at 90 proof, so it’s not hot and can be enjoyed neat or with an ice cube. If you haven’t tried it, give it a chance.
Our final tasting (included with the tour, anyway) was the Barrel Select Whisky. A limited number of barrels are chosen – based on tastings – each year and blended to create this small batch whisky. Again, it has the same mash bill as all the other labels. It’s bottled at 86 proof and is best enjoyed neat or with a few drops of water. The nose will reveal corn, vanilla, and caramel. When tasting, you’ll find vanilla, butterscotch, and some spice. There is also a hint of the oak. This is a very good whisky.
Our tasting did not include one of Dickel’s most popular, newer whiskies, namely their blue-labeled, Bottled-in-Bond Tennessee Whisky. This is actually my favorite Tennessee Whisky (not counting their 8-year-old bourbon). I’m having a glass while I write this review (for inspiration purposes only, of course), and if you get the chance to pick up a bottle, you should.
After the tasting, we were invited into the old post office that actually used to be operational. From there, we wrote postcards to friends and family that the folks at Dickel mailed (free of charge) for us. We could also have a Dickel Lemonade (not free) or sample some of their other products (also not free).
We all agreed that George Dickel was one of our favorite stops along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., and I think you will, too.