When we first heard whispers of George Dickel Tabasco Barrel Finish or “Hot Dickel” as Diageo has nicknamed it, we included it in our New 2018 Whiskeys article in January. Not too many people took notice of the product at first, but that has certainly changed since then. Our recent Twitter and Instagram posts of the bottle in-hand received a hot mess of responses. The comment spectrum ranged from a few that tasted it, rather enjoying it, to the many that hadn’t, posting, “sounds like I will need Zantac on deck for a week,” “sounds vile,” “just no,” “vomit,” and “poop emoji.” These negative comments seemed like people’s automatic response to the product’s concept. This is typical of any announcement of flavored whiskey nowadays (even though this is actually partially barrel finished). But really, when you first heard about a Tabasco flavored whiskey, did it really sound all that appealing?
Fred Minnick published an article last week about George Dickel’s gimmick-adverse distiller Nicole Austin and it seemed like she had similar thoughts about Dickel’s latest release. The article refers to a letter Austin wrote where she states Hot Dickel was in development before she joined the company and she knows a lot of people may enjoy it, but added, “I think it’s important to share that they are not 100% in line with my vision for Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.”
This was a refreshingly honest opinion that didn’t reek of PR. The truth of the matter is, her parent company needs to put out products that aren’t always going to align with her vision. As much as you would think Diageo would come down hard on her for being less than 100% committed to the product (and they certainly may), the company must understand Austin needs to maintain her street cred with enthusiasts in order for her and Dickel to make much needed new inroads with this group of whiskey drinkers.
Some distilleries like Four Roses have stated they have no plans to produce a flavor whiskey, but others like Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey have a number of flavored whiskeys in their product portfolio. Do drinkers think of these distilleries any less to the point where it actually affects sales? Flavored whiskeys as an issue for enthusiasts, is small fries compared to larger issues of dubious allocation, out-of-control pricing, and lackluster limited releases.
The truth is, any vocal aversion to Hot Dickel would have simply rolled right off Austin. If anything the heated discussion surrounding Hot Dickel is bringing much needed attention to George Dickel and Austin. Good press, bad press, it’s still press. When was the last time the spotlight really shined on Dickel? Sure it probably would have been better if the attention was the result of releasing an amazing new bourbon that blew people away, but sometimes a goofy concept and a bottle dressed in Christmas colors is a good enough start.
One of Hot Dickel’s more interesting aspects is it provides a variation to this subset of “hot” whiskeys. Pointingly, it doesn’t rely on cinnamon as its main flavor component like ultra popular Fireball Whiskey and its many imitators do. As much as this seems engineered to take on Fireball Whiskey with the additional power of the Tabasco license slapped on it, it surprisingly, sort of, works. Tabasco is known for its unique taste in the hot sauce space, and in a way, Hot Dickel might be similarly known for its unique taste in the hot whiskey space. This might have been pure luck or Dickel figured this out in their early testing and decided to run with it. Jefferson’s has been experimenting with a Tabasco finished whiskey for years and still hasn’t released it. We know how much Trey Zoeller loves his experiments, so this could be telling that creating a Tabasco flavored whiskey isn’t as easy as it looks. Yet, Dickel moved forward with their product, released it, and is taking whatever heat comes with it.
As refreshing as Austin’s comments were, she ultimately probably didn’t need to say anything at all. Hot Dickel isn’t going to be for everyone, and probably not the majority of our readership at the very least, but shockingly it has something unique to offer. It might be minor and inconsequential to most, but this is far from a trainwreck or the vomit and poop emoji that immediately sprang to people’s minds when they first heard about the concept. And yes, this is way more words and puns than I ever thought I’d type about Hot Dickel.
George Dickel Tabasco Barrel Finish Tasting Notes
Classification: Whiskey finished in used Tabasco barrels
Distillery: George Dickel
Mashbill: 84% Corn, 8% Rye, 8% Malted Barley
Tabasco sauce is made by fermenting and aging Tabasco peppers in used whiskey barrels (ironically ex-Jack Daniel barrels) for three years. George Dickel Tabasco Barrel Finish is created by finishing George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey in these used Tabasco barrels for 30 days. Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce is then distilled to create an essence, which is then blended together with the whisky to create George Dickel Tabasco Brand Barrel Finish. As it seems, part barrel finish, part flavoring.
The nose gives off a strong hot sauce aroma that immediately gives me phantom heartburn. The sharp pepper scent lingers in my nose long after a whiff. It’s a straightforward and simple smell that communicates it's one thing and one thing only: a Tabasco flavored whiskey. The palate is surprisingly and oddly sweet, much more so than I expected. The sweetness seems to stem from the oak barrels and charcoal filtering. This is in contrast to what seems like a product developed solely to compete with Fireball Whiskey. Where Fireball Whiskey is sugary sweet, Hot Dickel tastes more naturally sweet, which frankly I didn’t expect. From there, the Tabasco finish comes in and it's impossible to ignore. It’s everything you know of Tabasco and its unique take on a hot sauce, infused into a whiskey. It has a long drawn out spicy finish that envelops your entire mouth and throat. It’s spicier than a typical “hot” bourbon - surprising absolutely no one - but at 70 proof its anything but hot. It actually goes down quite easily.
It’s also easy to theorize that this would be great to make cocktails with, but for most of us less experienced mixologists, there will probably be less difference using Hot Dickel versus simply dabbing a few drops of Tabasco into a whiskey cocktail. I am curious what professional bartenders could do with this product. Thinking outside the Bloody Mary box, Hot Dickel just might make for some really inventive cocktails thanks to its natural sweetness. That’s not always true for many flavored whiskeys.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Diageo. We thank them for allowing us to profile it with no strings attached.