Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, 80 proof (40%).
Made from at least 51 % rye, this type of whiskey was once the most common in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland. Although many brands disappeared after Prohibition, Old Overholt is still in production and has a history going back to 1810, when Abraham Overholt (pictured on the label) came up with his original straight rye recipe. Said to have been the favourite whiskey of both President Abraham Lincoln and legendary Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday, it was later legally sold by prescription during Prohibition, as well as used as the medicinal whiskey of the US Navy in WWII. Now the brand is owned and distilled by the Beam company.
Rye whiskey has its very own character, distinctly different from Bourbon and needs to be enjoyed on its own terms. Although matured for four years, the colour is light gold without any deeper tones. The nose is totally lacking the corn sweetness you´ll find in a Bourbon, and is light with an early hint of wood, followed by the white pepper spiciness that is considered typical of rye whiskey. Somewhere in the middle you will also find a distinct eucalyptus note. Neat in a tasting glass you will get a dryness very different from Bourbon, light bodied with some white pepper and a short, dry finish. In a tumbler with an ice cube its light character is mostly diluted without contributing anything new. All in all I think this is an honest whiskey and a nice representative of its particular style, that seems to have stayed true to its heritage in spite of being produced by one of the largest commercial manufacturers in the US. I will probably have to get at least one more bottle of Old Overholt, if nothing else to try to get hold of Peychaud´s bitters and absinthe to make a Sazerac. Attentive viewers of great series “Treme” might remember a scene involving said cocktail, fictional chef Jeanette Desautel and the face of real life food critic Alan Richman. Great stuff.
George Dickel No 12, Tennessee Sippin´Whisky, 90 proof (45%).
Founded in 1870 in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma, Tennessee, the Dickel distillery went through the usual tribulations during the Prohibition years, finally ending up in the ownership of the Diageo company. While still manufactured in Cascade Hollow using water from Cascade Spring, the bottling takes place elsewhere. Legend has it that George Dickel noticed that whisky made during the winter was better than the ones made in summertime. This led him to what was called the cold chilling process, meaning that the whisky was chilled in order to filter out unwanted oils and fatty acids before mellowing with maple charcoal (the so called Lincoln County Process). Unlike Jack Daniels that lets the whiskey drip through the charcoal, George Dickel steeps it in a charcoal-filled vat before letting it mature in new American oak barrels, claiming to give a more smooth whisky. Actually, Dickel himself felt that his whisky was smooth enough for it to compare favorably to Scottish whisky, thus the different spelling from other American whiskeys.
The design of the bottles are in a simple style creating the feel of an old bottle of whisky that wouldn´t look out of place in Al Swearengen´s saloon in Deadwood. Four years of barrel maturation gives the whisky a pleasant light amber colour. The nose is dominated by a very nice and full maple sugar and honey sweetness that goes on for a long time. Very intense and pure. The taste is equally full and with a characteristic maple sweetness followed by aromatic and complex vanilla and oak tones in the finish. In a tumbler with ice you get a nose with more pronounced vanilla sweetness and a slightly less full taste that reveals some light smokiness in the finish.This is without a doubt a very well made whisky that´s both pleasing and complex, with a well-defined character making it an excellent representative of Tennessee whisky.
George Dickel No 8, Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky, 80 proof (40%).
Another distillate from the same producer. This time made in the sour mash Bourbon tradition, but still with the George Dickel cold chilling and charcoal mellowing method. Amber colour, a sweet corn and maple sugar/honey nose that´s much simpler than the more complex No 12, but still full and satisfying. Definitely lighter in taste than the No 12, but with a pleasing dryness and a finish of new oak. Iced in a tumbler the sweetness is accentuated while sacrificing a lot of the complexity. Definitely enjoyable but less characteristic than the no 12.