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Dickel Whisky No. 8 makers create shortage

One item may be missing from holiday parties this year: George Dickel Whisky No. 8.
/ Source: The Associated Press

One item may be missing from holiday parties this year: George Dickel Whisky No. 8.

It's scarce because the Dickel distillery shut down production from 1999 to 2003, trying to reduce inventory of the Tennessee sippin' whiskey. It worked.

And since whiskey must age, it's too early for a new batch.

Dickel has taken out ads in several newspapers, apologizing for the shortage. The ad blames the situation on "an incredible surge in demand for George Dickel No. 8," but it's been known for years that the shortage was coming.

Other Dickel brands — Superior No. 12, Barrel Select and Cascade Hollow Batch — are still available.

Diageo PLC, the British beverage giant that owns Dickel, declined to provide production figures, citing competitive reasons. Dickel is one of only two brands of Tennessee whiskey, but it is a distant second to better-known Jack Daniel's, which ranks among the world's best-selling liquors.

"It's a temporary setback," said Gary Galanis, a vice president for Diageo. "No. 8 will be back in early 2008."

Christopher Carlsson of Rochester, N.Y., who edits the Spirits Review Web page, said time simply caught up with Dickel. All whiskey-making requires years of aging, and for Dickel No. 8 it is five years.

"You have to think 10-20 years ahead and think where the market will be," Carlsson said. "They are pretty much against the wall, victims of their own success."

The shortage follows a glut of Dickel during the 1990s. A previous marketing plan ramped up production during a failed attempt to challenge Jack Daniel Distillery for Tennessee whiskey supremacy.

There was such a Dickel surplus that some bottles on the shelves were more than 10 years old, so the company decided to shut down the distillery for a while until sales diminished the inventory backlog.

Galanis said in a telephone interview he hopes Dickel consumers will not have their holiday cheer dampened.

"No. 8 is the most popular brand in our portfolio," he said. "We have ardent followers, and don't want to upset them or for them to go anyplace else. Look hard, and you can find it."

Dickel is available in all 50 states but is most popular in the Southeast and Midwest, Galanis said.

Dickel has a colorful past. The company in rural Tennessee has always spelled its product "whisky" — without the standard "e" — because its founder felt his blend had more in common with the finest smooth Scotch whiskies than the more rough-hewn American spirits.

George A. Dickel was a German immigrant in the 1840s who started a boot and shoe business in Nashville but decided he could make more money selling liquor and became a distributor.

"We're doing our best," Galanis said. "We're just a small outfit. We'll get our family members back in the fold."

Ever the promoter, he recommended Cascade Hollow Batch, a new Dickel brand aged less than three years.

"It fills a void for the consumer. It's mixable or great by itself."