George A. Dickel is an American success story! Born in Germany in 1818 as George Augustus Dickel, he immigrates to the United States at the age of 26. He founds a business in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1853. Dickel marries a Tennessee born woman of German descent, Augusta Banzer.
By 1855, Dickel is making a living as a cobbler fashioning shoes and boots in Nashville. This business keeps him busy, yet it is not the trade in which he is destined to make his fortune. George enters the whisky business in 1866 with a liquor store at 125 Market Street, Nashville, Tennessee. He hires Maier Salzkotter, as well as the two brothers Victor and Emile Shwab. They purchase whisky from local distillers and quickly earn a reputation for picking only the finest, most mellow spirits for their own label. The next year they move their store to a larger location at 23 S. Market. As business continues to grow, they move for the third time in three years to the corner of Church and Market. In 1870, George A. Dickel and Maier Salzkotter collaborate to form Geo. A. Dickel & Co.
Victor Shwab marries Augusta’s sister Emma Banzer in 1871. The family’s reputation as whisky dealers continues to flourish over the next several years. In 1878, a new distillery is constructed in neighboring Coffee County in Cascade Hollow. Dickel really likes their whiskey and begins purchasing a large share of the distillery’s production. Victor Shwab becomes a partner in Geo. A. Dickel & Co in 1881.
Shwab also acquires a 2/3 ownership in Cascade Hollow distillery in 1888. George particularly likes the whisky made in the colder winter months. The company starts advertising as Geo. A. Dickel’s Cascade Tennessee Whisky; the whiskey that is Mellow as Moonlight.
Salzkotter retires from the whisky business in 1888 due to failing health, and is deceased within two years. George also begins to withdraw from the business because of declining health, exacerbated by a fall from a horse. The 70-year-old George relies more and more upon his brother-in-law and partner to run the business. After George’s death in 1894, his widow Augusta, and his partner Victor, inherit Geo. A. Dickel & Co. In 1898, Victor Shwab acquires the remaining shares of the Cascade Distillery after the death of the distiller, Maclin Davis. By the turn of the century, Shwab hires the D’Arcy Advertising firm of St. Louis to advertise Geo. A. Dickel’s Cascade Tennessee Whisky nationally and internationally.
The distillery is enlarged during 1904 to meet growing demand for Cascade. In 1908, the brand continues to be so popular that the liquor trade magazine Mida’s Criteria writes an article describing the distillery and its distinct Lincoln County Process. Prohibition comes to Tennessee in 1910. The distilleries are given 12 months to pack up and leave the state. Victor Shwab travels to Louisville and enters into a contract with Arthur Philip Stitzel to produce Cascade whisky. To ensure the qualities of the whisky remained consistent in the bottle, Shwab
pays for a charcoal mellowing vat to be built at the Stitzel distillery. On the days that Stitzel is not brewing whiskey, Shwab brings in his crew from Tennessee to make Cascade. Spurred by the beginnings of prohibition in the United States, this contract to lease equipment is a unique arrangement in the distilled spirits industry.
National Prohibition is voted into law in January of 1919. It declares the production, transport and sale of alcohol (though not consumption or private possession) to be illegal. The entire industry is effectively shut down, with the exception of selling medicinal and baking spirits. Stitzel Distillery is able to obtain licensure to become one of six firms permitted to distribute medicinal spirits during prohibition. Cascade begins to be sold as medicine in 1920.
During Prohibition, the Stitzel distillery pays royalties of 50 cents-per-case to Victor Shwab. When Shwab dies in 1924, brand ownership passes to his children. After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the Cascade Whisky lands briefly at the new Stitzel-Weller distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. The family ultimately sells the rights to the Cascade Whisky to the Schenley Distilleries in 1937.
Schenley’s production of Cascade Whisky by the Geo. T Stagg distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, does not include the Lincoln County charcoal filtering process. The brand becomes Cascade Bourbon and is distributed locally and nationally. In 1958, Schenley opens a new Cascade Hollow Distillery, very close to where the original distillery stood before prohibition. The charcoal filtering process is reintroduced into the whisky production process. To avoid confusion in the market, Schenley releases the whisky from this new distillery simply as Geo. A. Dickel Tennessee Whisky. This whisky is not to be rushed and does not make its debut until 1964. It is bottled as Dickel Black Label Old No.8 and Dickel Tan Label Superior No. 12.
Today the brand is still distilled and aged in Cascade Hollow, near Tullahoma, Tennessee. It is owned by Diageo. The distillery is part of the American Whiskey Trail and offers tours to the public.
Multiple tastefully unmistakable George Dickel whiskies are produced and mellowed at this historical site.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl