Just last week, we wrote about the launch of Dickel Bourbon, the first product bearing George Dickel’s name to roll out of the Cascade Hollow Distillery with the word “bourbon” officially slapped across it, rather than referring to itself simply as “Tennessee whiskey.” Here’s the thing, though: There’s plenty of bourbon on the shelves that is sourced from Dickel, because pretty much all Dickel whiskey can technically be referred to as bourbon—it meets all the legal requirements to do exactly that. And indeed, well-aged Dickel whiskey has been spread all over the “limited release” world in recent years, from the blenders at companies such as Barrell, to all-Dickel special releases such as Sweetens Cove. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the words “Tullahoma, Tennessee” if you’re paying attention to whiskey labels.
It only makes sense, then, that Diageo would eventually want a piece of the action via their Orphan Barrel release series of limited edition whiskeys. Everyone else has well-aged Dickel on the shelves; why not them too?
What they’re delivered is Orphan Barrel Copper Tongue, a 16-year-old Tennessee bourbon that stands out in the series in a few notable ways. One is the fact that this is a cask strength release, but an exceptionally low-strength one, at only 44.9% (89.8 proof), which suggests the barrels were likely stored at the bottom of a rickhouse in cooler conditions, where they lost strength during aging rather than gaining it. The second notable thing about Copper Tongue is its relatively accessible price point, as the $100 MSRP is lower than typical for Orphan Barrel releases, but this tends to be common with less expensive Tennessee whiskeys. Even at $100, it’s hard to call this a “value” on paper, given that George Dickel’s own Bottled in Bond series has put out several batches of 13-year-old whiskey at 100 proof, for around $40-45. Like the Sweetens Cove, and other premium bottlings of sourced Dickel whiskey, the challenge here is that Copper Tongue must show itself to be novel enough to stand out from those readily available, well-aged Dickel expressions.
Also of note: Copper Tongue was blended by Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.’s own GM Nicole Austin, who has become a celebrated distiller and blender in recent years, as the face of Dickel’s high-end renaissance. According to Robb Report, she blended this product from two separate and unique lots, one of which was significantly more affected by its time in the oak than the other. As she put it: “One lot completely stepped away from all the stereotypes [of aged whiskey]. It was very light and sophisticated, totally drinkable at cask strength. And the other one, it was very balanced, but to me it had that structure that tells you, I am drinking an old whiskey. I think blending the two was the right choice, because the ultimate product was more balanced and complex.”
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting this unusual, 16 year old, sub-90 proof “cask strength” bourbon.
On the nose, I’m getting an interesting blend of notes leading off, encompassing some I associate with Dickel and some I don’t necessarily think of as common in their whiskeys. There’s significant caramel and oak, with the oak giving off more of a spicy and slightly savory dimension, along with pronounced notes of anise. There’s a slight mustiness as well, something earthier and a bit more on the funky side, along with impressions of nut butter that I often associate with Dickel.
On the palate, I’m getting butter toffee up front, along with cherry cordials (with milk chocolate), hazelnut, pepper, ginger cookies and spicy oak. On my initial sips I found these sweeter elements to be quite pleasant and pretty engaging despite the lower proof, but returning to this dram it began to feel a bit more overpowered by the barrel. The oak contributes a drying effect as you might expect at this age—not too astringent, but it’s there, balancing the creamy caramel, vanilla and spice (licorice) character. Less harmonious is an accompanying tartness that I began to associate with the oak flavor, a sour woodiness that feels a bit more prominent than I would like. For me, it detracts a bit from what is otherwise an interesting flavor profile.
Ultimately, Orphan Barrel Copper Tongue feels like a slightly difficult bourbon to rate. For its proof point, it should be commended for packing some very vivacious flavors that you don’t usually find in a whiskey under 90 proof. There’s a significant amount of complexity, but there are also some wood-derived notes that run away a bit with the final profile, in my opinion. Still, at $100 this is pretty accessible by the standards of the Orphan Barrel series, and there’s likely someone out there who will find themselves raving about this particular combination of Cascade Hollowing Distilling Co. flavors. To my taste, however, it can’t match other great Cascade Hollow/Dickel releases I’ve had in recent years, such as Cascade Moon Whisky, or the aforementioned Sweetens Cove. It’s a release that may find itself trapped between those even more expensive, premium Dickel whiskeys, and the great value of the everyday Dickel BiB.
Distillery: Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. (George Dickel)
City: Tullahoma, TN
Style: Tennessee bourbon
ABV: 44.9% (89.8 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $100 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.