We’ve got a Tennessee showdown on our hands.
Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel represent the No. 1 and No. 2-selling brands of Tennessee whiskey in the world. Lynchburg and Tullahoma, where the two brands are produced, are only about 10 miles apart as the crow flies. Between them, they boast the two largest distilleries in Tennessee — and quite possibly as much whiskey producing capacity than any other 10-mile radius on planet Earth.
Tennessee whiskey is a separate product category from Bourbon whiskey in the U.S. market. Although the two share many similarities, they have one critical difference: the Lincoln County Process, which uses sugar maple charcoal to filter the distillate before maturation.
In this post, we’ll compare them head-to-head to help you learn more about these two brands — and what sets Tennessee whiskey apart from other types made throughout the world.
George Dickel and Jack Daniel were both whiskey makers based in Tennessee during the 1800s.
George Dickel was born in Grünberg, Germany, in 1818. He moved to the United States in 1844 and made his way to Nashville, Tennessee. He soon became a part of the German community in Nashville. The records of his activity during the Civil War are murky. Some of his business partners were busted by federal authorities for smuggling alcohol into the Union-controlled city.
After the war, he became involved in all facets of the alcohol trade. He worked with the many German-born brewers in the area, imported Champagne from France, wines and brandies from throughout Europe, Jenever from Holland, whiskey from Scotland and Ireland. And most importantly for us — he worked with local distillers at the Cascade Hollow Distillery to distribute the ‘copper distilled sour mash whiskies’ that were ‘mellow as moonlight.’
The end of Dickel’s career as a wholesaler — which lasted until he retired in 1886 — overlapped with the beginning of another Tennessee whiskey maker’s story: Jack Daniel.
Daniel was born in 1850 and learned the art of distilling as a child from a man named Nearest Green. After the Civil War ended, Daniel built a new distillery in Moore County in 1875. He brought the freedman Green to work with him as his head distiller. Nearest Green has been credited with inventing the production characteristic that makes Tennessee whiskey unique — what would eventually become known as the Lincoln County Process.
As a regional brand, the whiskey produced by the upstart Jack Daniel would have competed directly with those distributed by George Dickel. Both brands grew during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But everything came crashing to a halt when the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920.
Both businesses were mothballed during Prohibition. When production was resumed in 1933, they would find the industry of distilled spirits had been forever altered by the 13-year hiatus.
When distillation continued, brands surged to meet the booming, pent-up demand caused by a decade-and-a-half of thirst. Many of the small, regional brands that used traditional copper pot distillation techniques could not regain their footing. Entrepreneurs looked to modern, industrial column distillation techniques to move as much whiskey through an abbreviated maturation process and into bottles as quickly as possible. The consolidation of the industry became a prominent force, which utilized economies of scale and distribution to lower costs.
Ownership & Line Extensions
Jack Daniel’s is the No. 1 selling brand of Tennessee whiskey globally, while George Dickel is No. 2. But because of the relatively few distillers in the state — compared, at least, to Kentucky or Scotland — the comparison is a lopsided one.
Both Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel are owned by large, publicly traded international spirits companies. Because of this, we can look at sales data for these brands both domestically and abroad.
The Brown-Forman Corporation acquired the Jack Daniel’s brand in 1956. Brown-Forman is one of the largest spirits companies based in the United States, and Jack Daniel’s is its core brand. It is the No. 1 selling American whiskey brand in the U.S. and the world and the fourth-largest premium spirit brand of any kind.
Jack Daniel’s has released multiple brand extensions in recent years, including a line of flavored products. The flavored expressions grew to 2.5 million cases in 2020 despite disruptions to the on-premise channel. These include Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple, launched in 2019, growing ‘at a record pace’ — 250,000 cases in eight months. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey is the No. 2 selling flavored whiskey on the market. Numerous ready-to-drink (RTD) products that have been popular for decades in Europe, Australia and Asia are now being distributed in the United States.
George Dickel is operated by Diageo, PLC — the largest international publicly traded spirits company in the world. While Jack Daniel’s is the backbone of Brown-Foreman, George Dickel is a small regional brand focused in a few key markets in the United States. In fact, a search of their 2020 market report only showed one mention of Dickel — a nod to the brand’s 13-year-old bottled-in-bond limited-release bottling, which was named the Whisky of the Year by Whisky Advocate.
Jack Daniel’s has a mash bill — or list of grain ingredients — of 80 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 12 percent malted barley.
George Dickel has a mash bill of 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley.
Additional corn adds sweet and mellow corn notes to the finished product, while additional malted barley gives the finished whiskey the herbal notes along with a nutty character.
Distillation & Production
Limestone filtered water is a key ingredient in many of the world’s most renowned whiskeys – whether in Coffee County, Tennessee, or Kentucky, the Speyside region of Scotland or Mt. Kaikomagatake in Japan.
The Jack Daniel Distillery uses natural spring water from Lynchburg’s Cave Spring to make its whiskey, and George Dickel’ Cascade Hollow Distillery pulls water from the nearby Cascade Spring.
Both brands use the Lincoln County Process, which is nearly universally understood to be the most significant difference between Tennessee and Bourbon whiskeys. This process — along with the requirement that it be a Tennessee-made whiskey — is part of the legal definition created by Tennessee law. The Lincoln County Process describes a charcoal mellowing treatment that uses sugar maple wood charcoal to filter the clear distillate before it is placed into new American charred oak barrels to mature.
Neither of these whiskeys has an age statement, but they’re both big on printing numbers on the bottle.
Jack Daniel’s black label — the most widely available offering — is known as Old No. 7, with ‘No. 7’ placed prominently in big, bold white font face in the center of the front label. Not to be outdone, George Dickel’s most well-distributed expression is the ‘Classic 8 Recipe,’ featured on the label with a big, bold red ‘8’ that stands out against the rest of the type in white-and-gold font.
Neither of these numbers is considered an age statement, and they have been a feature on the labels for decades. But the packaging teams of each brand certainly wouldn’t be too upset if you mistook the numbers for age statements.
In Scotland and other parts of the world, placing numbers unrelated to age statements on the label is not allowed because they may confuse customers. But in the United States, the U.S. Tobacco and Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau does not have any regulations restricting this practice.
While we’re discussing the subject of obscure U.K. labeling law, let’s talk about spelling.
George Dickel claims in marketing material that the founder and namesake spelled ‘whisky’ using the traditional Scottish tradition. While not strictly untrue, that may be a bit of an oversimplification.
Advertisements from the mid-1800s do show Dickel’s Cascade brand using the ‘whisky’ spelling. But throughout the whiskey world, both spellings were more or less interchangeable at the time. The differentiation came about during a dispute between Scottish and Irish distillers, which didn’t play out until later in the 19th century.
Both Scotland and Ireland were administered by the British government at the time. Irish distillers — who during this time were almost universally considered to make the best whiskey in the world — grew increasingly concerned with the adaptation of modern column distillation practices following its invention a few decades earlier. When the U.K. parliament ruled that column-distilled spirits could still be called ‘whisky,’ the Irish distillers unanimously adopted the spelling ‘whiskey’ in 1879 to differentiate their superior pot-distilled product.
Price Point & Value
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey is the brand’s standard black label offering. It is the No. 1 selling American whiskey in the world. It is bottled at 80-proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume, and costs about $24 for a 750mL bottle.
George Dickel Classic No. 8 Tennessee Whiskey has a much smaller distribution imprint. It is available for about $15 in most markets and bottled at 80-proof, or 40 percent ABV.
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey
Nose: Oak and charcoal, with hints of pine and a buttery caramel aroma.
Palate: A spicy pepper flavor, with notes of clove.
Finish: Spicy with lingering pecan, black pepper and cherry.
[Related: Complete Jack Daniel’s Review]
George Dickel Classic No. 8 Recipe Tennessee Whisky
Nose: New oak, caramel, honey, black cherries.
Palate: Smooth character, baking spice — cinnamon and vanilla, spicy black pepper, and oak backbone with sweet caramel and honey and stone fruit notes.
Finish: Maple and oak, lingering smoke.
[Related: Complete George Dickel Classic No. 8 Review]
[See Also: Complete George Dickel Superior No. 12 Review]
This matchup ultimately comes down to price-point and name recognition.
Jack and George both offer the same style of whiskey. Most likely you’ve come across Jack Daniel’s in your travels. So, if you’re looking to bring home a whiskey bottle with a similar flavor profile for a lower price, go ahead and give George Dickel a try. Or, put them in a side-by-side flight to see what the Lincoln County Process has to offer in terms of taste.