Top 20 Whiskies of 2019

#1 • George Dickel 13 year old Bottled in Bond (Distilled in Fall 2005)

  • Rank: 1
  • Year: 2019
  • Score: 94
  • Price: $36
  • ABV: 50%
  • Style: Tennessee Whiskey
  • Place of Origin: Tennessee

At the start of 2019, a Tennessee whiskey would have been considered a long shot to be named Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the Year, but this Dickel came barreling from behind with the poise and power to impress our blind tasting panel. Its value is unmatched—serving up a full 13 years of barrel age at 50% ABV for just $36. Such bargains result because Tennessee whiskey lives in the shadow of bourbon, which can easily command three or four times the price at this age.

Tennessee actually yielded a flurry of high-scoring new releases in 2019, many of which we suspect trace their roots to George Dickel’s recently renamed Cascade Hollow Distilling Company. So we’re delighted to see Dickel place its name on this whiskey, with its bold, rich mouthful of flavors.

Following Tennessee’s practice of charcoal-filtering the distillate before aging, this whiskey is soft around the edges yet delivers plenty of intensity. The mouthwatering peanut aromas evoke memories of cracking open a school lunchbox while the palate delivers abundant fruit: orange marmalade and caramel apple. Fine bitter-sweet balance suggests burnt sugar, Mexican chocolate, chocolate-covered almonds, and toffee. Indeed, sweet nuts, like French burnt peanuts, candied pralines, and marron glacé, seem to be the common thread here, lending this a consistent chord from initial nose through the drying, pleasantly spiced finish.

As recently as 2016, Dickel appeared to be reeling, following the departure of two longtime distillers. In 2018, 33 year old Nicole Austin, a chemical engineering graduate who got her start with New York craft distiller Kings County Distillery, took over as general manager and distiller. Austin set about cherry-picking the warehouses for exceptional barrels, a dramatic change of course from the just-released George Dickel Tabasco Brand Barrel Finish, finished in hot sauce barrels.

The result is this 13 year old whiskey, which like all bottled in bond spirits results from one distilling season—here, the fall of 2005. In this way, bottled in bond whiskey is similar to a vintage wine, making this release a limited edition by definition. We relish well-aged, delicious whiskey at a bargain price—and all whiskey lovers have reason to applaud George Dickel on hitting its stride. —Jeffery Lindenmuth