VMP Interview with Alissa Henley, from George Dickel Whisky

On June 10th 2015

Not only is George Dickel an amazing whiskey that stands as a favorite for both Mackenzie Scott (Torres) and ourselves, they're also a great group of folks carrying on a long tradition of quality and excellence. We got to chat with Alissa Henley, one of their distillers, not only about both herself but also the history and process behind George Dickel. Enjoy.

VMP: Hey Allisa, it’s so cool that you’re now a distiller at George Dickel. Congrats! We’re huge fans, and we’re excited to chat. To get started, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?

Allisa: I was lucky enough to grow up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which is also where George Dickel was founded. I love the South, and if you’ve ever visited or lived in the South then you know that it has a certain way of winning you over.

VMP: *Laughs* Yeah I’m from Virginia so I know exactly what you mean.

Allisa: *Laughs* Oh yeah then you know for sure, the South is a wonderful place. I enjoyed growing up in Tullahoma because it’s such a small town and everyone knows everyone. My parents were both school teachers, and we were a very close knit family. Our town is the sort of place where you can’t really keep secrets *laughs* and you always know what’s going on with everyone. I guess it’s a little gossipy but in a lovable way.

I would say in general that I’m a typical small town girl who grew up dreaming of someday going to the big city and starting a life there. As far as school I got the opportunity to go to the University of Tennessee for my undergrad degree and then headed to Lipscomb for my MBA, and I really enjoyed both places. Around the time that I graduated, though, I found myself missing Tullahoma and ended up moving back here to work for George Dickel.

VMP:That’s so cool. So what was it like when you started working for George Dickel?

Allisa:It was a really interesting time in the distillery’s life, because a group of the old guard folks were all retiring right around then and handing off the baton to the next generation. In any transition like that, I think it’s important to protect what makes a company or brand special and everyone handled that really well.

VMP:Absolutely. I can imagine there are a lot of things that make George Dickel unique, and the fact that it’s been around so long without drifting from those is something to applaud for sure.

Allisa:Yes, completely. We’re obsessive about every detail of not only our products but what makes us who we are, and really I guess there’s not a big difference between those two things. What you make and how you make it says a lot about you are as a person I think.

VMP: Yes. Well said. What are a few of the things that you love about George Dickel and that you think make it such a special distillery?

Allisa: Well, one of them is the level of attention we put into our products. Ralph Dupps, one of our previous master distillers, was adamant about how important it was that we keep our processes the same no matter how big we got and how many different kinds of products we made. He said that everyone’s responsibility was to keep things exactly how they were from that perspective, and that if we ever changed our processes or recipes that it would be the end of our distillery. We obviously took that pretty seriously.

VMP: *Laughs* yeah, that’s no joke. Sounds like you all have a pretty special process for how you make your products. Can you tell us as much as you’re allowed to tell us about how that works behind the scenes?

Allisa: *Laughs* Of course! There are a few steps:

  1. We start with our grains and cook them into what’s called a mash. This process lets the enzymes in the malt turn the starches in the grain into sugar, which you need to make whisky.

  2. Once you’ve got your mash, you ferment it so that the sugars can turn into alcohol.

  3. Once that process is done, we double distill the alcohol.

  4. We then filter the whisky through Tennessee sugar maple charcoal, which is a process unique to us. We also cold filter it through the charcoal, which we also keep cold, and that helps give it a smoother taste

  5. Then, the whisky goes in a barrel and stays there for between 4 - 15 years

VMP: That’s awesome! Really interesting stuff.

Allisa:Yeah, it’s really fun work and we’re hands on for every step of the process so that nothing gets away from us. You might say that we’re almost too obsessive but great whisky doesn’t happen by accident *laughs*. I’ve been here for 11 years now, and have loved having a front row seat for how we’ve grown during that time, and now in my new role I’m excited to help lead us into the future.

VMP:Where do you see George Dickel going from here as a company?

Allisa: I think primarily our goal is keep growing in such a way that doesn’t change us at all. I feel like I’ve said that a lot today *laughs* but it’s really important to us. So, I guess just getting our whisky into the hands and glasses of as many people as we can!

VMP:*laughs* Sounds like a plan to me! Switching gears, since we’re a music company I’m contractually obligated to ask you about what kinds of music you love and what you’re listening to right now. Mind filling us in on that?

Allisa: *Laughs* For sure! My mother was a music major at the University of North Alabama so I grew up around all kinds of different music, and so now I listen to pretty much everything. One day it’s pop, one day it’s country, on day it’s rap. I keep it pretty different, and love listening to the radio as much as I can. I can also play a little piano, but I don’t know if you’d want to hear that or not!

VMP: *Laughs* Yeah I’m in the same boat with piano. Am definitely not getting any phone calls to perform anywhere. Well, thanks a lot for your time, this has been great. Talk soon!


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