George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend Rye

GEORGE DICKEL X LEOPOLD BROS
released 2021

MASH BILL – blend of George Dickel and Leopold Bros rye mash bills

PROOF – 100

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – George Dickel & Leopold Bros

PRICE – $125

WORTH BUYING? – Kinda…

The Leopold Bros website makes no mention of this collaboration, even though the initial idea came from Todd Leopold. The omission is surprising. A longstanding big Tennessee brand—arguably the defining Tennessee brand second only to Jack Daniel’s, and certainly among the most widely sourced American whiskey brands—collaborated with a comparatively small but prolific craft operation in Colorado? Rarely do distilleries of any size collaborate in this way.

By contrast, the George Dickel website highlights the endeavor with its own dedicated page. As the bigger operation, perhaps George Dickel put up most of the backing and therefore does most of the promoting. They do handle the bottling—using a George Dickel design, complete with the brand’s name etched directly into the glass—which likely means the blending process takes place at their facility as well.

In any case, this release is arguably “an event” in the American whiskey world. Something worth talking about.

This rye blend combines the debut of George Dickel’s own column still rye, newly produced at their Cascade Hallow Distillery and not yet released on its own, with Leopold Bros’ Three Chamber Rye. Nicole Austin, since joining George Dickel as General Manager and Distiller a handful of years ago, has quickly taken the brand in interesting new directions. Similarly, Leopold Bros is an insatiably curious operation, producing a wide range of spirits, and, recently, resurrecting the long lost Three Chamber Still. Theirs is literally the only still of its kind in the world, custom-made based on antique design manuscripts Todd Leopold managed to dig up. (For that full story, watch this.)

The revived Three Chamber Still premiered with a 2021 bottled-in-bond rye, made from a mash of rare heritage Abruzzi rye grain, aimed at replicating a full-bodied American whiskey like those more commonly made a hundred years ago. Despite garnering many rave reviews, that initial release was overpriced at $250 msrp and can still be found sitting on shelves. One must hope the Three Chamber Still will be in regular operation and Leopold will put out a more affordable standard release of the rye soon.

The current collaboration with George Dickel is not that hoped-for affordable release. At half the price of the inaugural Three Chamber release, it also seems overpriced. It’s good. No question. I enjoy it very much. It’s just not a $125 tasting experience. Like Leopold’s premiere Three Chamber Still rye release, we might be paying for this being a first—both a first collaboration, and George Dickel’s first use of their new in-house column still rye. Its label indeed calls this an “inaugural release,” suggesting there are more to come. So, there’s hope for affordable releases yet…!

I’ve already said this rye is a good one. Let’s get into the details. These notes were taken a week after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle, tasted in both a Canadian and traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – pale but vibrant amber-oranges with brassy highlights

NOSE – easygoing, with plentiful herbaceous rye spices and a custard-like creamy caramel, vanilla, lemon like in a glass of fresh water, a light dash of ground black pepper, all very fragrant and yet reserved enough I’m compelled to keep coming back to search for more…

TASTE – very true to the nose in every respect, the 100 proof providing solid support without either under or over doing the heat, with an added floral note like some kind of artisanal chewing gum

FINISH – a light peppery warmth, the grassy rye notes like in a breeze wafting through the rye fields and carrying their aromas, a light fruit note like dried apricots in rye bread, that floral chewing gum note

OVERALL – clear, clean, robust yet refreshing flavors, making for a relaxing experience—very like the sunny, crisply cool afternoon on which I’m sipping it…

This rye has been very consistent over its first week since uncorking. It’s complex without being complicated, fragrant without going perfumy, as generous as it is restrained. Very easy to sip on and perfectly enjoyable in both glasses. The traditional Glencairn highlights the herbaceous grassy notes, and the Canadian Glencairn pulls forward the custards and creams and caramels.

There is an effortless quality to this whiskey. That’s not to suggest it was effortless to make. On the contrary, effortlessness takes a great deal of effort! As a theater-maker, I know that truism well. I can only expect it’s the same in whiskey-making.

Yet for something that tastes as content to hover in the background as it warrants attention, I’d rather pay much less than $125. At $50 I might break my no-bunkering rule for this whiskey. That said, my sense memory is calling up Riverset Rye, also from Tennessee, which goes for $30 a bottle, leaving me with the question of why to buy this when there’s that? (Perhaps a side-by-side tasting is in order!)

The whiskey boom era is an interesting one to navigate. Consumer options are expanding, with information increasingly accessible online. While some distilleries are making the most of the boom to minimize costs and maximize profits, others are embracing the boom as a time of curiosity, a time to experiment, try new things and revive old practices. These endeavors come at a cost. That custom-made Three Chamber Still could not have been cheap! And even for a larger company like George Dickel, installing and experimenting with new column stills must have entailed a sizable investment.

I remember when my dad bought our family’s first VCR in the very early 1980s—for $900! They were exotic machines at first and selection was limited. But very soon they became ubiquitous and prices gradually came down. And when DVD players came out and were in their initial pricy stage, a decent VCR could soon be found for even $50. In a hundred years maybe someone might commission a manufacturer to build a custom-made VCR from antique manuscripts, and people will buy VHS cassettes from high-end film boutiques, paying premiums for the novel experience of watching movies at home in the way their ancestors once did. 😉

If this Dickel/Leopold collaboration hints at what future affordable releases of Leopold’s Three Chamber Still rye or George Dickel’s Column Still rye will be like, I’m glad to know I have something to look forward to. It sure was a pricy preview, though. When other such endeavors come from other distilleries, I’ll know to wait patiently for the initial excitement to settle, and for the price to follow suit. There will of course be no shortage of good whiskeys to sip on while I wait…

Cheers!

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