As we head into New Year’s Eve, cocktails are on our mind at the Travel Addict. One of the brands that we have enjoyed throughout 2022 is George Dickel Whisky.
Geo. A. Dickel & Co. was born and when the Cascade Hollow Distillery opened in 1878 in Coffee County, Tennessee. George Dickel bought a large share of the spirits company and followed in the Scottish tradition of spelling whisky without an “e.”
George Dickel preferred whisky made in the winter months more than summer months because he felt it made the whisky taste smoother. We agree and Dickel whisky is the perfect ingredient for winter cocktails to keep you warm on cold winter nights.
The Travel Addict caught up with Nicole Austin, the current General Manager and Distiller at George Dickel this fall at Bourbon and Beyond Festival to discuss her role at the distillery and what sets George Dickel apart from other brands on the market.
What are the day to day responsibilities of a master distiller?
Oh, there’s no such thing. It’s one of those weird terms and titles that kind of doesn’t mean anything. It’s different at every company but that’s not even what I call myself. My title is General Manager and Distiller.
It is a way of saying that I’m responsible for just generic management stuff like, you know, strategy and what we’re going to do and where we’re going to sell.
The distiller part, which is the fun part of my role is deciding what whiskies we going to make. What does it mean for it to be good? I’m not in there pushing the buttons. The distillery absolutely runs without me being in it.
But I get to say how much of this type of whiskey should we make? Is it good enough? Is it not good enough? If it isn’t, what should we do about that? And then, of course, the blending of the mature whiskeys, which is really one of my favorite parts and managing our whiskey. That is the best part of the job.
We talked in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail and they told me you were a chemical engineer by background. How does this play a role in what you do today at George Dickel? Do you think it helps you in your role?
Engineering is just a way of thinking and solving problems. It certainly gives you a very rigorous, logical way of approaching a problem. My favorite professor always told me that when you graduate from my program, you should approach everything differently from your grocery shopping to calculus. And I think that’s certainly true.
But also, it definitely helps, especially when it comes to troubleshooting. If something isn’t quite working the way that you think it should, where do you look to try and fix that? I used to think you could kind of science your way into a perfect whiskey. I now know that it’s a lot more art than it is science, but the science is really helpful when something’s not doing what you expect.
Did you ever have normal engineering job?
Yes, I worked in wastewater treatment engineering. I was an environmental engineer and I did a lot of water and wastewater projects. This is better. Yes.
How did you make the transition to working with distilleries?
I essentially settled my way into Kings County Distillery back in 2010. They were the first craft distillery to be licensed in New York since prohibition. I kind of showed up at their door the day they got their license and said “I will work here now.” And they were like, we don’t have any money. And I was like, “Well, I’ll work for free.” But, you know, it got me in the door and that was really the beginning of my journey here.
Did you always love bourbon? What sparked your interest in?
You know, not always. There were like the infant years, like when I was ten, I did not love it then. (Laughing) Once I hit legal drinking age, I saw that there’s an allure about whiskey. Even when I didn’t know anything about it and had never tasted it. There’s just there’s an allure about it. And I was always kind of in love with that.
In New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail I tasted the George Dickel x Leopold Bros collaboration with the Dickel meal at Toups Meatery? Can you just give us a little background on how the collaboration came about? Can we look forward to more blends in the future?
Todd (Leopold) and I have been friends for a long time. I really respect him as a producer. And I’ve been following his effort to resurrect this lifestyle for whiskey for more than a decade now.
He had done so much work researching and resurrecting the heirloom varietal. He built this three-chamber still from these old drawings and figured out how to run it, laying down the whiskey. He’s been working on this project for a decade.
I got to come in at the end when he called me. Ultimately, he learned that the three-chamber heavy bodied rye was most typically blended with a lighter bodied column distilled rye. With his ultimate goal to resurrect the whiskey style, he called me thinking I could help him find some common distilled rye.
It was amazing because for the last four years, I had been distilling Rye Cascade Hollow. I was already thinking about what I wanted to do with it. When he called me, I immediately wanted to do this blend with him. In your career, when do you get an opportunity to work with someone as talented as Todd and then also get to resurrect a lost style of whiskey? That is a unicorn and I was just thrilled.
The whiskey is beautiful and it’s been very rewarding. What’s next for the for the blend in general? I tell everyone to hunt down that inaugural release, if you can. And, you know, wink, wink. Maybe there will be more.
What sets George Dickel apart from the other bourbon brands?
Right now, I think it’s we’re in a real sweet spot of a size of a distillery. We have heritage and we have 150 -ear history and a real, genuine connection to the glory days of American distilling. But we haven’t already become a massive, large commercial brand.
We haven’t fully established our modern identity. We’re in this really magical moment of distilling where the distillery is small enough that I can still be really creative and we can try new things, but big enough that I can make whiskey that people can afford to buy. And it’s a real sweet spot that not a lot of distilleries sit in. I feel really, really grateful.
George Dickel blends often show up on lists of best whiskeys that you can buy for an affordable price. Is that important to you?
Yes of course. A great example is the bonded. I think that’s always been an ambition for me, you know, working in the smaller craft distilleries. You can be some really creative, beautiful things, but it’s so frustrating when ultimately you have 30 cases of it you can’t share with anybody. It’s not accessible to people.
To be able to make a beautiful whiskey that I’m deeply proud of and make that whiskey accessible to people; that’s the sweet spot.
We hope that everyone comes to Tennessee to visit the Distillery in Cascade Hollow. We are in beautiful Coffee County on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. Visitors can make a day of it and visit our facility, Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniels and have an incredible whiskey experience.
Try out one of our favorite George Dickel Cocktails this New Year’s Eve:
0.75 oz. George Dickel Recipe No. 1 Whisky
0.5 tbsp. Bitter Italian Aperitif
2.25 tsp. lemon juice
2.25 tsp. honey syrup (equal parts honey & hot water)
2 dashes orange bitters
1.5 oz. dry sparkling wine