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George Dickel Distillery

Located in Coffee County near Tullahoma, the George Dickel Distillery holds the distinction of being one of only two legal Tennessee distilleries that remain in operation, the other being the Jack Daniel Distillery in Moore County. In the late 1860s, George A. Dickel, a successful Nashville merchant, created a wholesale company that bought barrels of whiskey directly from several regional distillers and distributed them in barrels, jugs, and bottles. Along with his company partners, V. E. Shwab and McLin Hezikiah Davis, they promoted and sold the whiskey throughout the region. The most popular brand that they marketed was a whiskey from a distillery along Cascade Creek in Coffee County. The quality of this whiskey was attributed to the excellence of the water from the creek.

Recognizing the popularity of the whiskey, Shwab purchased a two-thirds interest in the distillery in 1888, and eventually George A. Dickel & Company became the sole distributor of the whiskey. Like many mass-produced products, the company distinguished its whiskey from other competitors by having a distinctive label. The labels depicted a still with a copper worm and were stamped “George A. Dickel & Company,” followed by “Cascade Distillery.” In addition, the product bore the slogan “Mellow as Moonlight.”

By the time V. E. Shwab gained full control of the Cascade Distillery, George Dickel had been dead four years, having died in June 1894 at the age of seventy-six. Dickel willed his business interests to his wife, Augusta. Although he instructed her to sell his share of the business, Augusta chose to keep her share of the distillery with the Shwabs. After Augusta died, the Shwabs became the owners of the distillery.

As a result of the Manufacturer’s Act in 1910 that stopped the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in Tennessee, dealers, distillers, and brewers announced that they would either close their businesses or move them out of Tennessee. Although it was illegal to produce liquor in Tennessee, many distillers moved to other states and shipped their liquor into Tennessee. During this time, the George Dickel Distillery moved from Cascade Hollow to Louisville, Kentucky, where it was produced at the Stitzel Distillery until prohibition hit Kentucky in 1917. With the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States in 1919, distillers had to stop production of their whiskies.

In 1933, national prohibition was repealed. Four years later, the Shwab family sold its interest in the distillery, which consisted mainly of the trademark and the recipe for the famous Cascade whiskey, to Schenley Industries in Kentucky. Although the company manufactured the product with the same recipe, many people complained that the Kentucky quality was not as good as the whiskey made in Cascade Hollow. Believing that they would have a better product if they returned to the Coffee County site, the company took steps to manufacture the whiskey at the original site. Since Coffee County had remained dry after the repeal of Prohibition, the company necessitated a special referendum to approve the manufacture of whiskey locally. In 1958, with the passage of appropriate legislation by the voters of Coffee County, Schenley Industries sent Ralph L. Dupps to rebuild the distillery in Cascade Hollow.

In order to rebuild, Dupps acquired 850 acres of land about a mile from the original Cascade Hollow site. Although the distillery was in a new location, it continued to use the Cascade Branch water source. By July 1959, the first mash was produced, but none of the whiskey could be marketed because it had to age for six years. In 1964, the George Dickel company began selling its whiskey.

In 1994, the Cascade Distillery site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for it archaeological significance to the understanding of the late-nineteenth-century whiskey industry of southern Middle Tennessee. Many of the physical remains such as the foundations of the still house and the spring dam can be seen on the site. The nearby George Dickel Distillery continues to manufacture its product and has become a tourist attraction with a distillery tour, a visitor center, and a gift shop known as the “George Dickel General Store.”

Suggested Reading

Tennessee Historical Commission, “Cascade Distillery Site” (1994); Kay Baker Gaston, “George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey: The Story Behind the Label,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 57 (1998), no. 2: 150-67; Paul E. Issac, Prohibition and Politics: Turbulent Decades in Tennessee, 1885-1920 (1965).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010