Tours

A Look at Cascade Hollow, George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, and the Secret in the Water

Learn more about the history behind one of America’s most prolific whisky brands.
Cascade Spring runs along the George Dickel distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Cascade Spring runs beside the George Dickel distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. (Photo: Chelsea Davis)

Unless you know what you’re looking for, you’d never simply stumble across Cascade Hollow, home of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky. Cascade Hollow is about an hour and a half southeast of downtown Nashville, where things like cell reception and traffic cease to exist. The lack of Wi-Fi is a pain, sure. That said, touring the quaint, charming atmosphere of Cascade Hollow, it feels natural not to be inundated with texts, calls, or social media alerts.

The George Dickel distillery today. The George Dickel distillery today. (Photo: Chelsea Davis)

Outside the distillery is a lovely brook that’s been flowing since before George Dickel Whisky was a thing — 1869, to be precise. The stream, which cuts through grassy pastures and underneath looming ancient trees, is known as Cascade Spring. While whisky distilleries have their own secret mash recipes, this water source is a particularly key component of the Dickel distilling process, one that sets its liquor apart from that of its competitors. The waters of Cascade Creek — known for its purity — have always played a crucial role in George Dickel Whisky’s unique identity.

George Dickel plaque at distillery National Register of Historic PlacesThe Dickel tagline is: Handmade the Hard Way, which makes sense when you’re told there haven’t been any significant upgrades to the distillery since 1958. Remaining more or less the same in terms of the distillation process and the machinery used to produce the liquor is something the Dickel team is proud of.

Given that most distilleries went largely automated years ago, the fact that Dickel heavily relies on its production team to do things all by hand is quite impressive.

Tales of the Cocktail sat down with Brian Downing, the extremely passionate whisky connoisseur and George Dickel Distillery Ambassador, to learn more about the secrets of Cascade Hollow and the history behind one of America’s most prolific whisky brands.

Tell us about the history of Cascade Hollow and George Dickel; specifically how the water of Cascade Hollow came to be an important incorporation into the whisky?

Born 40 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George A. Dickel was an established Nashville merchant. Legend has it, George Dickel discovered the home of the George Dickel Distillery, Cascade Hollow, in 1869 when he visited Tullahoma with his wife, Augusta. Cascade Hollow’s ancient limestone shelf provided pure water, running fresh, cool and clear.

George Dickel discovered that whisky made in the winter was smoother than whisky made in the summer. That’s why our whisky is chilled before charcoal filtration. This extra step smoothes out the flavor to create "Mellow as Moonlight" perfection, and to this day, we’re the only Tennessee distiller to do it. Declaring the whisky of equal quality to the finest scotch, George Dickel followed in the Scottish tradition of spelling whisky without an “e.”

A historical photograph of the distillery. Photo courtesy of George Dickel whiskey. A historical photograph of the distillery. Photo courtesy of George Dickel whiskey.

What makes Cascade Spring’s water unique?

Every great distillery is named after its water source, and Cascade Hollow is no different. Water is a key ingredient in making whisky. We distill our whisky to a low-proof, 130, so there is a lot of the character from the mashing process that's going to carry forward into the finished project.

Dickel whisky bottle What’s the composition of the water? What is its pH level and has it been tested for mineral content?

Every limestone-filtered spring is going to have a slightly different mineral content and chemical signature. We want water that is high in calcium and magnesium, has low sulphur, and zero iron content.

More important, is it top secret? Is the water the key to George Dickel? Or rather ONE of the keys?

We consider our water to be critical to our whisky flavor development, but I wouldn’t call it a secret. We’re lucky that we have such a great water source in Cascade Spring and it’s part of the integral character which is George Dickel Tennessee Whisky.

What makes Cascade Hollow Distillery legendary?

We are the largest distillery in the U.S. that isn’t run by a computer. That means we have people involved at every single step of our traditional production process. We are tucked away in Cascade Hollow, use the same water source George Dickel started using in 1870, are the only distillery in Tennessee using single-storied brick houses, and we have the highest elevation of any warehouse in Kentucky or Tennessee. Cascade Hollow is a magical place.

The barrels of George Dickel.

For more on George Dickel Tennessee Whisky and distillery tours, click here.

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