Culture: ‘It’s a Recognition of the Whole Portfolio,’ Says Nicole Austin, Director of George Dickel, Spirit Brand of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2023 Wine Star Awards | Wine Enthusiast
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‘It’s a Recognition of the Whole Portfolio,’ Says Nicole Austin, Director of George Dickel, Spirit Brand of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2023 Wine Star Awards

George Dickel, a brand deeply rooted in American distillation history, is pushing the boundaries with its line of modern, innovative whiskeys.

It’s not often a historic brand is reinvigorated as a must-have. But that’s what happened when Nicole Austin, now Director of George Dickel and Luxury Whiskey, came on board in 2018. Under her stewardship, the brand has transformed into a powerhouse, turning out award-winning bottles sought after by bartenders and collectors alike.

The brand’s story began in 1878, when George Dickel, an established Nashville merchant, opened Cascade Hollow Distillery. The company was first known as Geo. A. Dickel & Co. The distillery prospered until Prohibition effectively shuttered the business. A full 25 years after the repeal of Prohibition, in 1958, the brand was revived and began producing Geo. A. Dickel Tennessee Whisky. Today, nearly 150 years after the distillery first opened, the brand—now known as George Dickel—continues to produce whiskey in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

When Austin arrived on the scene, she brought a fresh perspective, having worked at both a small craft distillery in Brooklyn, where she honed her creative instincts, as well as Tullamore Dew, where she learned the rigors and efficiencies of working with a large facility. She viewed the job as twofold, she recalls: first, to preserve the standard and legacy of the Tennessee whiskey brand; second, to find a way to work with a significant archive of aged whiskey.

“What’s the best use of this whiskey?” Austin remembers thinking. “Given all this inventory we have, what would be the most beautiful use, and what would I be most proud of, looking forward 20 to 30 years?”

What followed was a string of outstanding whiskeys, including a 17-year-old reserve, a 15-year-old single barrel, Dickel Bourbon, Bottled-in-Bond vintage whiskeys and the experimental Cascade Moon series. The Dickel 8-year-old bourbon has become the biggest seller, Austin says, overtaking even the flagship Signature Dickel Classic.

The lauded bourbon bottling has also provided a talking point for Austin’s ongoing efforts to improve education about Tennessee whiskey (“It’s bourbon with something a little extra,” is her pithy explanation about the charcoal-filtered American whiskey), a critical step in getting the word out to legacy bourbon consumers and continuing to drive sales forward.

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Most recently, Austin found inspiration in her craft distilling roots, teaming with Denver craft distillery Leopold Bros for an innovative new rye bottling, the George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend. The release blends Dickel’s rye with Leopold’s Three Chamber Rye, to recreate a robust, historic style of rye whiskey.

“We launched it as a one-off to see, would anyone be interested, would anyone care?” Austin explains. The response: Consumers were so interested that the product will become a permanent part of the Dickel line. “It cements a relationship between one of the largest distilleries in the world and a craft distillery—I don’t know of any others,” Austin says. “I’m hugely proud of it. It’s resurrecting a historic style of rye. That’s huge news, and it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my 10-year career.”

While it’s gratifying to see certain bottles win awards and acclaim, Austin says she is also pleased to see more consideration given to Dickel overall—including this Wine Star Award. “It’s a recognition of the whole portfolio,” she says. “That people are noticing not just one bottle, but that this whole place is special.”

For its transformation from historic mainstay to consumer must-have, George Dickel is the recipient of Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star for Spirit Brand of the Year.

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