Whiskey fans are always glad to see a neglected brand get some love but, as with the Old Grand-Dad reboot, doing it with made-up history dampens our enthusiasm.
George Dickel is a small brand, a mere speck in drink giant Diageo's eye. It's hard to even find on Diageo's brand lists, so buried is it by Goliaths like Smirnoff, Capt. Morgan, and Johnnie Walker.
So here comes the new Whisky Advocate with a bright, shiny, 12-page insert for Dickel inside, with the title "Handmade the Hard Way, the Hard and True Story of George Dickel American Whiskey at Its Best."
Except the story they tell is a long way from true. We're not talking about fluff here, typical advertising exaggeration, though there's plenty of that. We're talking about blatantly false history and other false claims. Some examples:
"For nearly 150 years, our distillery has been faithful to the recipe that founder George A. Dickel created and perfected."
There were actually two distilleries, one that operated from about 1877 until 1910, and the current one that was built in 1958, so the real number is 90 years. Worse than that, George Dickel never "created and perfected" a whiskey recipe. He wouldn't have known where to begin. He was a whiskey merchant, not a distiller.
"Soon, he discovered in nearby Tullahoma, Tenn., what he considered the perfect spot to make whisky: Cascade Hollow."
Tullahoma is about 80 miles from Nashville, where Dickel was based. In his day, that was hardly "nearby." Even today, with the interstates, it's about a 90 minute drive each way. That's a judgment call, this isn't. George Dickel had nothing, nothing, to do with the location of the Cascade Hollow Distillery. The site was chosen and the distillery was built in 1877 by John Brown and F. E. Cunningham. Dickel never did anything but buy whiskey from Cascade. It is unlikely he ever visited the place. He certainly did not build it and he never owned it.
"So well-regarded was this place that when Dickel first bottled whisky there, in 1870, he named it for the hollow."
Maclin Davis, who owned Cascade when it did business with Dickel, named the brand. Dickel had nothing to do with that. It is highly unlikely there was ever a bottle filled at Cascade during Dickel's lifetime or at any time before 1959. Dickel would have bottled it in Nashville. That's what he did. He bought, packaged and sold whiskey. He was what we today call a non-distiller producer (NDP). George Dickel & Co. became the exclusive sellers of Cascade Whiskey in 1888, not 1870.
"[After his death, Dickel's widow and business partner] changed the whisky's name to George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky."
No, they did not. The name change happened in 1964, when the first whiskey from the new Tennessee distillery was ready to sell. Schenley, the brand's owner at the time, changed the name to compete more directly with Jack Daniel's. Schenley had just tried, unsuccessfully, to buy Jack Daniel's. Rebuilding Cascade and launching George Dickel was their Plan B.
As with the Old Grand-Dad reboot, not everything about the Dickel insert is bad. Most of it is great. The photography is beautiful and appropriate, and the present day whiskey-making process is thoroughly and accurately explained. George Dickel makes excellent whiskey and because its owners neglected the place for so long, it has never been fully modernized making its "handmade" claim more legit than most.
What Diageo has done with Dickel's history isn't glossing over the real story, or spinning it. This isn't prettying it up, this is making it up. That's not 'cute' or 'fun,' it's offensive. The true story is told in my books but also here, courtesy of the Tennessee Historical Society. It is all very well documented and easy to find. Diageo knows its version is false.
In business and life, a person or company who will lie to you about something will lie to you about anything. Diageo has shown, and not for the first time, that it can't be believed. That's a problem.