George Dickel’s Bottled in Bond whiskey series of the last two years has been emblematic of the way that older “heritage” distilleries have managed to reinvent themselves by catering directly to the segment of whiskey consumers who want solid age statements and full flavor. Perennially overlooked and often underrated, the most popular releases featuring Dickel whiskey have often been bottled by non-distiller-producers in recent years, as companies like Barrell have exploited the availability of their well-aged whiskey stores time and time again. One can only imagine that this must have been frustrating on some level for the people at Dickel—you’ve got these barrels that are drawing rave reviews when other companies’ names are on them, so why not start selling your older whiskey yourself?
Enter, the Bottled in Bond series, which drew rave reviews and a lot of attention when it first arrived in 2019 for both sporting a big age statement (13 years), a respectable proof point of 100, and still being under $40 in terms of MSRP, which immediately make it one of the best pure deals in American whiskey. And indeed, the popularity of this brand has bought Dickel the cache they need to bump the prices up a bit—you’ll note that this newest release has gone from $36 to $45, which is a bit more in line with its specs, but still a good deal on paper.
Here’s the thing, though. With this Spring 2007 batch being the third Dickel Bottled in Bond batch to hit the shelves, it’s starting to become clear to me as a taster that there’s a significant degree of inconsistency in this series. There have been entries that I absolutely loved, and entries that I’m finding disappointing. It’s starting to make me wonder which Dickel is going to show up when I open one of these bottles.
The first batch, now titled Fall 2005, was a 13-year-old whiskey that I enjoyed, if not loved back in 2019. Last year, however, saw the release of Fall 2008, an 11-year-old batch that I thought was greatly improved on every level, so much so that I included it in our list of the best whiskeys of 2020. That left me with pretty high expectations for this new batch, Spring 2007 (back to 13 years old), but I have to confess that this one doesn’t seem to be on the same level.
Let’s get to tasting, and I’ll explain.
On the nose, this Spring 2007 batch of Dickel Bottled in Bond is pleasant, if a bit aggressive. I’m getting plenty of caramelized sugars and some red fruitiness that has both brighter (strawberry jam) and darker (maraschino cherry) elements, along with notes of milk chocolate, shortbread cookie and candied ginger. All in all, a pretty nice nose, but marred just a bit by a more overt ethanol presence than is typical for this series, which lends it a bit of sting.
On the palate, however, I was disappointed to find that this one reads as significantly drier and more oak-dominated than it initially smelled. There’s an initial flash of richness, with more of those caramelized sugars and very dark brown sugar, but the caramel then takes on a more bitter dimension, robbing the whiskey of some of its richness. The oak then starts to take over, partially obscuring the red fruit notes (cherry), and lending a dry finish that slowly but surely starts to dry out the palate. This one just feels a bit unbalanced to me, and I can’t help but wonder if age is perhaps a factor in this change of profile. Was the previous Fall 2008 batch simply in a “sweet spot” of sorts at 11 years old, and 13 is a level that begins pushing less pleasant barrel influences to the forefront? Or will the woody edge of this bottle perhaps fade with a bit more exposure to time and oxidation?
I remain uncertain, but regardless this bottle isn’t as immediately accessible as the previous release. If you’re interested in an oakier dimension on Dickel’s Tennessee whiskey, however, it might potentially be right up your alley.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.