One of the not-so-secret secrets of the whiskey business is that the vast majority of products on the shelf — sold under scores of different names — are all made by the same handful of companies. This is especially true of rye whiskey. You can visit your local store and see a dozen different brands for sale, but there’s a good chance that at least half of them were produced at the same distillery, a place you’ve probably never even heard of.
MGP Ingredients is one of the major players in rye whiskey, even though you’ll never see their name on a bottle. Located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, this one-time Seagram’s distillery (known as LDI until it changed hands a couple years back) produces a wildly popular whiskey from a mash bill containing 95% rye and 5% malted barley.
That whiskey is aged and blended in varying ways to become Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Willett Rye, and several others. It is also, notably, the whiskey that becomes Bulleit and George Dickel Rye.
Both Bulleit and George Dickel brands are owned by drinks conglomerate Diageo. Their rye whiskey offerings start out as the same MGP distillate, are aged for around for the same amount of time (four to seven years for Bulleit, five years for Dickel), and are bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).
There may be differences between the two whiskeys that the company won’t talk about. But the primary difference that is publicly known is that George Dickel Rye is finished in the way that all Dickel whiskeys (and most Tennessee whiskeys in general) are: by filtering it through charcoal made of sugar maple wood. They call this process “mellowing,” and it’s designed to impart a “smooth” character to the spirit.
So if both these whiskeys start out as the same liquid, how do they compare when you pour them out of the bottle? Let’s see who wins the face-off.
Bulleit: Rich and slightly spicy, with sweet honey and fruit.
George Dickel: Not as sweet. More oak, vanilla, and spice.
Bulleit: Spicy and somewhat dry. Cinnamon, vanilla, and mint, with a little bit of fruit and toffee. Balanced, refined, and flavorful, making for a very nice pour.
George Dickel: Dry and spicy, with vanilla, cereal grain, and cinnamon. Lots of oak. Almost bitter, with a kick at the end. Dickel whiskies are known for their smoothness, but this one is a little rough.
Bulleit Rye and George Dickel Rye have a lot of similarities, but some definite differences make for a clear winner. The Bulleit is sweeter (without being sweet), more flavorful and balanced, making it more pleasing overall. The George Dickel is drier and oakier, and the different components don’t meld together as well. They both have things to recommend about them, including abundant cocktail potential. But the Bulleit stands out as the better whiskey.
Bulleit Rye Whiskey