Friday, October 26, 2012
George Dickel Gives A Different Taste To LDI Rye
When Templeton debuted in 2005, the company was extremely secretive about where it was made. They wanted people to believe it was made in Templeton, Iowa, since mythology about that small town’s Prohibition-era reputation as a leading illegal whiskey source was the heart and soul of the company’s marketing strategy. That was impossible, since the company got its license as a distilled spirits producer the same year it launched its product, which as a straight rye whiskey had to be at least two years old, and tasted more like five or six.
Obviously, Templeton was whiskey made by another distiller, but who? Most lists of the usual suspects (including mine) didn’t include the old Seagram’s distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, which turned out to be the source. Little was known about that distillery, then owned by Pernod-Ricard, except that it made Seagram’s Gin, Seagram’s Vodka, and Seagram’s Seven Crown Blended Whiskey, but no straight whiskeys sold in the U.S.
Since then, many straight ryes have been introduced using whiskey made by the distillery best known as Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), which last year was sold to MGP Ingredients, Inc. of Atchison, Kansas. Templeton was the first to bring LDI’s unique 95% rye to market and George Dickel Rye may be the last, as least for now, since almost all of LDI’s current rye inventory is less than a year old. (Dickel has its supply locked up.)
The recipe, which calls for 95% rye grain and 5% malt, was developed many years ago, when Seagram’s still reigned. It was created by Larry Ebersold, then master distiller there. At first they made a standard rye whiskey, just 51% rye, the rest corn and malt. They wanted more rye flavor so they experimented with a recipe that was 80% unmalted rye and 20% malted rye. Everyone loved the result except the accountants, because malted rye is expensive, so they changed the proportions to 95% unmalted and just 5% malted rye. Still too expensive, said the accountants, so they replaced the rye malt with standard barley malt, and that’s the recipe LDI makes today.
The whiskey was always intended to be an ingredient in blends, not a straight. The company liked it so well for that purpose they decided to make it at their plant in Gimli, Manitoba, for use in Crown Royal and other Canadian whiskeys. They failed because a crucial strain of bacteria, native to Indiana, couldn’t survive beyond one generation in the harsher Canadian climate.
Since Templeton, the LDI rye has appeared as straight rye whiskey from High West, Redemption, Filibuster, Smooth Ambler, James E. Pepper, and now Diageo's Bulleit and George Dickel.
Although Diageo doesn’t own LDI, they’re its biggest customer. For several years, Diageo has worked with LDI to develop rye whiskey products for Bulleit (released last year) and Dickel (coming soon) using the LDI rye. The Bulleit version is very similar to Templeton but the Dickel Rye is different.
According to Dickel Master Distiller John Lunn, the aged whiskey is transported from Indiana to the Diageo bottling facility in Plainfield, Illinois, near Chicago. There it meets up with charcoal sent from the Dickel distillery near Tullahoma, Tennessee. At Plainfield, it goes through the exact same charcoal mellowing process as George Dickel Tennessee Whisky does at the distillery. The only difference is that the Tennessee Whisky is filtered before aging and the rye is filtered after aging. It is done in the same way using the same charcoal, after chilling the whiskey to 40°F.
Compared to Bulleit Rye, the difference in flavor is dramatic. Critics of filtering claim it makes any whiskey less flavorful, but that’s not the case here. There is plenty of flavor, but it’s different. Bulleit Rye is fruity but the fruits it suggests are red grapes, plums, and dark berries. Dickel Rye has a strong citrus flavor, suggesting variously grapefruit or pineapple. It’s appropriately sweet with a little bitterness, like peanut brittle, licorice or sassafras. There’s some soot and also raspberry and apricot.
If Dickel Rye does well it will be good for LDI, since Lunn says there are no plans to distill rye at the Tullahoma plant. “We’re concentrating on making the best Tennessee Whisky we can,” he says. They’re not planning to expand the distillery or build more warehouses either, but they have 600 acres, so there’s plenty of room to grow. There are no other products or projects, such as limited edition releases, that Lunn wants to talk about, “but we’re always looking at innovation, what we can do and what the people want,” he says.
At 42, Lunn is one of the youngest master distillers for a major producer. He was trained by his predecessor, Dave Backus, and even got to meet Ralph Dupps, who built the current Dickel distillery in 1958. Dupps gave him one piece of advice, “Don’t change a damn thing.”
He hasn’t. Dickel is unique in operating almost exactly as it did 50 years ago, with no computerized control systems.
The business has been buzzing about rye whiskey for almost a decade, but in the last year or so several new ryes have been introduced as line extensions of major bourbon or Tennessee whiskey brands, including Jack Daniel’s, Knob Creek, Bulleit, and now George Dickel. This should prove whether or not the heavily-publicized rye whiskey revival really has legs or not.
NOTE 10/29: Made a correction today based on information received from Diageo. When Lunn said they 'use the same charcoal," I incorrectly assumed they filtered it at the distillery. Instead they send the charcoal to Plainfield, Illinois, where Dickel is bottled. Sorry about that.