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Understanding Tennessee Whiskey with George Dickel

tennessee whiskey
Image used with permission by copyright holder
We drink a lot of whiskey here at the Manual.

Bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, everything. You name the type of whiskey and chances are we’re going to be drinking it at some point during the week. Because of this, we also, from time to time, get to drink one of our country’s own styles—Tennessee whiskey.

It was during one of these sessions that we realized something. What makes Tennessee whiskey different than bourbon or any other type of American whiskey. In order to figure out what makes Tennessee whiskey Tennessee whiskey, we sat down with George Dickel Tennessee Whisky’s brand ambassador Brian Downing to explain it to us.

First, there’s no federal law defining Tennessee whiskey. There is, though, a state law that was signed into existence in 2013 in the state of Tennessee that defined the spirit (TCA 57-2-106, for the legal eagles out there). The law states that, for a whiskey to be considered Tennessee whiskey, it must be:

  1. Manufactured in Tennessee;
  2. Made of a grain mixture that is at least fifty-one percent (51%) corn;
  3. Distilled to no more than one hundred sixty (160) proof or eighty percent (80%) alcohol by volume;
  4. Aged in new, charred oak barrels in Tennessee;
  5. Filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging;
  6. Placed in the barrel at no more than one hundred twenty-five (125) proof or sixty-two and one half percent (62.5%) alcohol by volume; and
  7. Bottled at not less than eighty (80) proof or forty percent (40%) alcohol by volume.

The biggest one here—and the one that separates it from bourbon—is rule five. What truly makes Tennessee whiskey as smooth as Chris Stapleton says is the filtering through charcoal. At George Dickel, that means chilling the spirit to forty degrees and filling thirteen-foot-tall charcoal mellowing tanks with whiskey. This mellowing process is known as the Lincoln Process, named for the county that Jack Daniels was originally produced in. There is one exception to this law, Pritchard’s, which does not use the Lincoln County Process to make their Tennessee whiskey.

Then, since we had Downing, we had to ask him one more thing about, specifically, George Dickel’s Tennessee Whisky. Why no “E” in whiskey? His response speaks to the American spirit that makes our whiskey so damn good in the first place:

“George Dickel Tennessee Whisky is spelled without because when George Dickel himself started our company in the 1860’s, he wanted people to know that his product was as good as any Scotch out there.  I may be a little biased, but more than 150 years later, I tend to agree with him.”

(Photo credit: Amy Ellis Photography)

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
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