Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Whiskey vs Whisky

Review: George Dickel No. 12 Whisky

Owned by Diageo, George Dickel Superior No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey is distilled and aged at the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $19-$25

A German born immigrant, George Dickel settled in Nashville and started a company to wholesale and distribute whiskey. In 1888, George A. Dickel and Company became the sole distributor for Cascade Whisky made outside Tullahoma, Tennessee, which was marketed as being "Mellow as Moonlight." But, in 1910, Tennessee enacted statewide prohibition of the manufacturing and sale of alcohol so Victor Emmanuel Shwab, the then owner of the Geo A. Dickel & Co. moved production of Cascade Whisky to the Stitzel Distillery in Louisville until Kentucky enacted prohibition in 1917.

After the repeal of national prohibition, Shwab sold the Cascade Whisky brand to the Schenley Distilling Company who made a version of the whiskey for over a decade marketed as Geo. A. Dickel's Cascade Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. Looking to compete with Jack Daniel's, Schenley built the Cascade Hollow distillery about a mile from the original distillery site. Whiskey production at Cascade Hollow began on July 4, 1959, and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky was first bottled in 1964. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions Diageo became the owner of the Cascade Hollow Distillery and the George Dickel brand in 1997. 

A quick side note about spelling. Current marketing from Diageo claims that George Dickel spelled his whisky without an 'e' to relate it to the superior tasting whisky coming out of Scotland. There is no solid historical evidence to support this claim. What is historically verifiable is that both spellings of whiskey and whisky were used completely interchangeably throughout the 19th century and it wasn't until the 1960s that the US began to prefer the spelling with an e and associate the spelling without and e with Scotch. For more information see my series Whiskey vs. Whisky.

George Dickel Tennessee Whiskies have a mash bill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley. This high corn mash bill gives the whiskeys a naturally sweeter flavor profile. Dickel is distilled on a 42 inch column still and according to Camper English the whiskey comes out around 135 proof.  The new make whiskey is cooled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and then added to vats of sugar maple charcoal which sits for about a week before being drained and barreled. Mellowing Tennessee whiskey with sugar maple charcoal before it enters a barrel is know as the "Lincoln County Process" and is believed to filter out harsh impurities. In May 13, 2013, Tennessee enacted a law that mandated the Lincoln County process  be used for all spirits labeled as Tennessee Whiskey except Prichard Distillery which received an exemption.

After being filtered through sugar maple, the unaged whiskey is proofed down to 57.5 and put into new American oak barrel with a #4 char. George Dickle No. 12 does not have an age statement of the bottle which tells us that the whiskey in the bottle is at least 4 years old. However, a couple of interviews with former master distillers for George Dickle place the aged of the barrels pulled for No. 12 at 6-12 years old.

Lastly, George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky was one of six whiskeys I included in a blind tasting of whiskeys less than $20. In this very unscientific tasting with a small group of my friends, Dickel came in right in the middle and ranked 4th. 

Tasting Notes

Nose: The whiskey has a muted nose with light notes of apple cider juice and just a touch of alcohol.

Palate: This light bodied whiskey is sweet on the palate with a little bit of oak and a hit of fruitiness.

Finish: The finish is short and has notes of apple and oak and then it's done.

Conclusion: George Dickel No.12 is a simple and easy to drink whiskey. While it does not have a ton of character compared to Kentucky bourbons, this is meant to be a different animal. Dickel No. 12 works neet, on the rocks, in your favorite tall drink or even a Manhattan. For the price I think Dickel No. 12 is a nice whiskey though not my first choice. 

Whiskey vs Whisky: Newspapers & Style Guides

Throughout this series I have been looking for answers for two questions: Why does whisk(e)y have two spellings? and Why does the US favor using whiskey while most of the world spells whisky without an e?  The answer for the first question, as it turned out, is fairly simple and straightforward.  Whisk(e)y entered the English language at a time when spelling was not standardized (i.e. before dictionaries) and it was common to have multiple spellings of one word.  However, the answer for the second question is more complicated.

Throughout the history of the word, neither the US nor the UK have ever exclusively used one spelling of whisk(e)y.  But, since the 1850's the UK has favored spelling whisky without an e.  In the US, whiskey, with an e, has only been used slightly more often that its alternate. Mid-nineteenth century dictionaries and literature from the United States demonstrates that both spellings were used interchangeably without any geographic connotation.  However, after 1960 whiskey became the preferred spelling in the US. 

While I had looked at books, etymology and dictionaries I was missing one other influential written source: Newspapers.  Using the California Digital Newspaper Collection, which includes papers statewide from the 1840's to the present, I found that there was no differentiation between the use of whiskey or whisky in papers from the mid-eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. For some unknown reason, the use of whisky skyrocketed from 1880-1890 though almost none of it referred to aged grain spirits made in Scotland.

I began to wonder what might have changed around the 1960's that could explain why the US started to prefer the spelling of whiskey over whisky and when the spelling's became embedded with geographic meaning.  As I continued to look at newspapers I discovered something interesting.  In 1950's the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, all published style guides that, among other things, gave instructions on how to spell whisk(e)y.  These style guides are important not only because these institutions have large readerships but also because other papers, magazines and writers use them as a reference when publishing their own works.  The AP Stylebook spells whiskey with an e but allows an exception for whisky when referring to Scotch.  Similarly, the LA Times Stylebook followed the AP guideline for whiskey but they expanded their exception to cover both Scotch and Canadian whisky.  These style guides seem to be the first published sources in the US to link the spelling of whisk(e)y with a geographic location.  The appearance of these style guides in the second half of the twentieth century mirrors the changing preference in the US for spelling whiskey with an e and the idea that whisky (for the most part) refers to non-US spirits.  While it is certain that the AP and LA Times did not create these distinctions, the evidence suggests that they were the first to codify them.

The interesting outlier among these style guides was the New York Times.  From 1950 to 1976 The New York Times Manual of Style required its writers to spell whisky without an e in all circumstances.  However, in 1999, for some unknown reason, the Times made a 180 degree change and decided to spell whiskey with an e no matter where it was made. Everything seemed fine until late 2008 when an internet controversy erupted about the Times' insistence that Scotch whiskey be spelled with an e.  In February 2009, after a flood of negative feed back from readers about their one size fits all policy, the Times changed their style guide again.  They adopted the rule followed by the LA Times which spells all whiskey with an e except when referring to Scotch and Canadian whisky.

Since newspapers are one of the most prolific sources of written language in the country, it makes sense that the change in how whiskey and whisky were used would be reflected here first.  But, just like dictionaries, style guides are reflecting and permeating language as it already exits, not creating new words or rules.  That being said, these style guides provide the best answer for why the US began to favor the spelling of whiskey when in the 60's and why whisky referred to aged grain spirits made outside the country.

Sources Cited. 

Whiskey vs Whisky: Dictionaries & Definitions

When searching for information on the definition and spelling of a word the first, and most obvious place to look is in a dictionary.  Dictionaries are interesting things. while at first glance they appear static and unchanging, they serve as markers for the fluid shifts in language over time.  Because language is dynamic, dictionaries both set the standard for how words are used and lag behind how people use words in day to day speech and writing.  Whisk(e)y is an interesting example of the linguistic power and limitations of dictionaries and provides another layer of complexity to the story of why whisk(e)y has two spellings.

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Whiskey vs Whisky: Etymology

 In the first Whiskey vs Whisky article I mentioned that there are a few explanations for why whisk(e)y has two spellings. Masters of Malt claims that in the 1870s American and Irish Whiskey distilleries adopted the spelling with the e as a means to differentiate themselves from the lower quality whisky coming out of Scotland at that time. This seems like a simple statement that should be easy to test, but like many things, the details are significantly more complicated.

My first thought was to look at the etymology.  According to Douglas Harper of the Online Etymology Dictionary the word whisky showed up in the early 1700s as a Gaelic translation of the Latin term aqua vitae or water of life. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, has a short entry that lists both whisky and whiskey but it does not include any years or explain why there are two spellings. The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, has the longest and most detailed entry about the historical development of the word whisk(e)y. It says that from 1583 to 1730 there were at least seven different anglicized versions of the Gaelic word uisge beatha “water of life,” that referred to grain spirits. In 1746 whisky made its first appearance in writing with whiskey following seven years later in 1753. After this no new spellings develop which is probably due to the fact that the first dictionaries were being published around this time. So Chambers offers a simple answer to why whisk(e)y has two spellings; when the word developed it was common to find alternate English spellings for the same thing.  However, this does not tell us when each spelling came to be preferred in different English speaking countries.

Chambers and Harper confirm that the spelling of whiskey is most prevalent in the US and Ireland while the spelling without an e is used in England and Scotland. Harper notes that this geographic distinction between the use of whisky in Scotland and whiskey in the US and Ireland was invented in the 19th century. The Ngram of whiskey and whisky used in British English (see the previous post) indicates that after 1850 most British writers used whisky while others continued using whiskey. Even though the Ngrams cannot corroborate the geographic nature of each spelling's use (i.e. Scotland vs Ireland) nor tell us the context in which each spelling occurs, it supports Harper's premise that there was a change in how the spellings were used at that time.

So while whisky and whiskey started off as mid-eighteenth century alternate spellings for grain spirits, by the mid-nineteenth century the two spellings have split in how they are being used.  Yet the larger questions of why the alternate spellings of whisk(e)y took on a geographic distinction as Harper and others claims is still unanswered.