Tullahoma, TN’s George Dickel, officially (but less famously) known as Cascade Hollow Distilling, occupies an interesting, unique place in the American whiskey world. Like other Tennessee contemporaries such as Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniels, they choose to use the so called Lincoln County Process of charcoal filtration, and they also choose to label their product as “Tennessee whisky,” (with the U.K. spelling of the word) despite the fact that many of their core products could legally be called bourbon. They’ve been a major U.S. brand for decades, but not always one afforded a ton of respect. But all of that has changed in recent years, for two reasons: Sourced Dickel whiskeys, and innovation on the homefront.
Sourced whiskeys are the way that many whiskey geeks have likely come to appreciate Dickel. The company’s large production means they’ve had plenty of product to sell to other non-distiller producers (NDPs) in the last decade, and the relative affordability of their whiskey meant that they were a favored target of those younger companies looking to acquire decently aged product at a good price. Like MGP in Indiana, this made Dickel something of a powerhouse in the sourced whiskey world, to the point that whiskey geeks often assume that Dickel is involved whenever a blend states it contains whiskey from Tennessee. In our recent review of Pursuit United Bourbon, for instance, I noted that the team behind that whiskey went out of their way to say that their own sourced TN whiskey was not from Dickel, showing that they thought this would be the assumption. Other well-regarded sourced blends such as Barrell or Sweetens Cove, meanwhile, have made good use of Dickel spirits and continued to improve their reputation.
At the same time, the ownership at Cascade Hollow Distilling/Dickel presumably (and understandably) wanted more credit for the good reviews their whiskey was getting in other people’s bottles, so they began innovating with new brands of their own. The version of George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond released in 2019 and 2020 did exactly that—these 13 and 11-year-old releases helped whiskey drinkers reassess their perception of Dickel, and drew very positive reviews. All in all, it’s made Dickel whiskey a much hotter commodity now than it was say, a decade ago.
It made sense, then, for the company to introduce some premiumized brands to take advantage of this new interest. Thus was born the Cascade Moon Whisky series from Cascade Hollow distiller Nicole Austin. The first edition was released in the fall of 2020 and was an 11-year-old bottling that was “inspired by, and features similar tasting notes found in a gose-style beer.” That certainly sounds interesting, but we didn’t have a chance to try that particular bottling. What we do have is the newly released Cascade Moon Edition No. 2, and I’m telling you right now: This one is a gem. In fact, although the year is still new, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the best whiskey releases of 2021.
In terms of profile, this is a substantially different release than Cascade Moon Edition No. 1. The company describes it as “curated around the first barrel of Tennessee whisky filtered after the distillery returned from shutdown in 2003,” and the overall batch size is apparently under 20 barrels. All of those barrels were at least 16 years of age, meaning that this is a very mature batch of Dickel whiskey indeed. It was bottled at a relatively modest 45% ABV (90 proof), in notably attractive sand-blasted ceramic bottles and hand-printed labels. As you’d likely expect from its appearance, this carries a steep price tag, with an MSRP of $250.
The obvious question: If Dickel put out a 13-year-old, 100 proof whiskey in 2019, with an MSRP around $40, how much better does this moderately older one (at a lower proof) have to be in order to justify that massive increase? That’s a pretty tough bar to clear, but upon tasting this one, I think it might be a rare occasion where I’m not having difficulty justifying that MSRP. This stuff is lovely.
On the nose, Cascade Moon Edition No. 2 is very deep and rich, with very dark caramel notes, loads of char and faint smoke, into fudgy chocolate and something I’d compare to pecan praline. Old oak is of course present in spades, along with a very dark berry fruitiness. “Dark” is the word here in general, apparently. All in all, it’s a nicely expressive nose for the lower proof point.
On the palate, Cascade Moon Edition No. 2 presents old, spicy oak notes first and foremost, into lots of baking spices, cocoa and something that reminds me of warming root beer spice. The caramel sauce, pecans and vanilla bean hinted at by the nose are there as well, along with blackberry jam. It’s actually not particularly sweet, though—”rich” is the more accurate term here thanks to delicate oak tannins that give this dram a drier, more elegant finish. And unlike the 20-year-old Lock Stock and Barrel rye I tasted the other day, the oakiness here never threatens to overpower any of the more subtle spice, fruit or caramelized sugar notes. Everything in this dram is functioning in wonderful harmony.
Doubtless there will be some who would want to taste this at a higher proof of 100 at least, but that’s to be expect in pretty much any modern limited edition whiskey release. I’m more impressed at the depth of flavor they managed to wrangle out of a mere 90. The MSRP will still be too rich for the blood of many, especially without a barrel proof presentation to go along with it, but those who do splurge on this one will be in for a treat.
All in all, it’s just another piece of evidence that well-aged George Dickel whisky is often a thing of beauty. And these days, a lot of folks are in agreement.
Distillery: Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.
City: Tullahoma, TN
Style: Tennessee whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $250 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.