A few years ago, I was at retired Old Fitzgerald master distiller Ed Foote’s house and noticed a George Dickel poster. For the unknowing whiskey person, Foote was the perfect George Dickel poster child. I suppose it didn’t really matter that he didn’t make the Tennessee whiskey.
From the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, that poster has always symbolized George Dickel’s marketing position in American Whiskey: Its parent company (formerly United Distillers) Diageo believed so little in the brand that they had a Kentucky distiller pose for its Tennessee whiskey. Can you imagine Woodford’s Chris Morris being the literal Jack Daniel’s poster child? JD Master distiller Jeff Arnett might have something to say about that!
Most in the business never quite knew what Diageo wanted to do with Dickel. The whiskey is stellar and they’ve employed some incredible talent, but Diageo put stronger efforts into moneymakers Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal and Bulleit. I’ve personally always thought they kept the brand to antagonize its neighbor, Jack Daniel, just enough to keep things interesting. But for years, they’ve sold their whiskey on the open market and perhaps seeing all the awards NDP “Dickel” whiskey has won has changed their tune. (Some of that whiskey was labeled as bourbon, but that’s another story.)
Yesterday, the Tullahoma, Tenn.-based distillery announced a branding shift, renaming the distillery Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., which serves as the home of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky and future innovation spirits.
They also announced hiring Nicole Austin as the manager and distiller.
I’ve known Nicole for nearly a decade. She’s the former master blender for Kings County Distillery, did consulting work with former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell and served as Project Commissioning Engineer for William Grant & Sons at the Tullamore Distillery in Ireland.
And I am telling you: She is perfect for this job. While Nicole is talented and with a great palate, she will force Dickel to be great again. And if people at Diageo don’t listen to her, she will probably find a way to make them listen.
When I asked her former Kings County colleague Colin Spoelman if she was a good hire, he said: “Yes, unhesitatingly. … Dickel is such a great undervalued asset in American whiskey. Nicole is a bold choice, perhaps since she is young relative to the other legacy master distillers but a good one for Diageo, who has sometimes had trouble reading the American consumer.”
Well, they read this one right. Even the press releasee was spot on. In her bio, Diageo called Nicole “a fierce advocate for the distilling industry.”
That’s true. And she doesn’t pull punches. Get ready folks, because I have a feeling we’re about to see a whole lot of George Dickel. It’s about time.