When I learned of the George Dickel whiskey finished in Tabasco barrels, I immediately wondered what their new distiller, Nicole Austin, thought. The talented Austin loathes gimmicks, and I imagined her kicking a trash can across the distillery. The can rolls to the sound of Austin saying, “damn you, parent company Diageo, you ruined my whiskey.”
Well, she didn’t do that.
Rather, Austin penned a thoughtful handwritten letter, saying the Tabasco barrel project was “already in the works” when she arrived to the Tullahoma, Tennessee, distillery. I received the letter last week and confirmed Austin wrote it.
“I know a lot of people are going to enjoy both of these spirits [second: Cascade Blonde American Whiskey]—they are great products—but I think it’s important to share that they are not 100% in line with my vision for Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.,” she wrote. “I have some ideas about how we can evolve them and will make a commitment to you and the consumers to let you know those changes I implement.”
Austin said her goal is transparency, and this letter only solidifies this stance and I hope her parent company sees the value in a young woman willing to stand up for her distilling principles and get ahead of what many will perceive as marketer-concepted whiskey.
Austin offered a four point guiding principle list that puts spirit quality first, shows dedication to the process and environment / safety with a solid backbone of honesty, authenticity and integrity. “My stakeholders are my employees, my consumers, my industry, my local community, my investors/owners/shareholders, my global community and me,” she wrote.
To many, this letter may seem like a “so what?” But Austin showed courage expressing her beliefs and not hiding behind PR people and marketers.
Perhaps an odd comparison, but the letter reminds of Pappy Van Winkle’s stance on “no chemists allowed” at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. That was a time when a man put the whiskey on the pedestal and didn’t listen to people whom contradicted Stitzel-Weller principles. This time, a woman stands strong to put whiskey first.
We live in a time, when marketing rules the whiskey nest, and Austin climbed to the top of a rick house and expressed a belief that was in-line with whiskey. Whiskey needs more people like this.
Yes, it was just a simple letter. But I’ve never seen a master distiller write something that may contradict the company message. Austin is all about the whiskey, it seems; let’s hope the accountants writing checks understand why that’s important.
Note: I’m a huge Tabasco fan and wrote an in-depth story on the place for Costco Connection. All of their hot sauce ages in used bourbon barrels. Read the story for more.Stay In Touch!