Frank - How's old George Dickel doin'Hank? I haven't seen him around lately.
Hank - Not too good Frank. He hasn't come out of the hollow for over two years now.
Frank - What's wrong wth him?
Hank - I heard he's come down with Diageo disease. It's fatal you know.
Frank - Hmm No foolin'!
In the July 28th, 1999 issue of 'The Tennessean' Rowena Millado reported that in late June the "George Dickel Distillery has pulled the welcome mat from tourists, closing it's country store and visitor center with no plans of reopening." Millado went on to report that the distillery used to attract about 10,000 people a year. Now that figure had droped to roughly 5,000 visitors. "Dickel plant manager Jennings Backus said the tourist center was a marketing tool that wasn't profitable to keep." The closing of the visitors center was not officially announced and came as a shock to visiting Dickel faithful expecting to find the distillery open. The Dickel website that was launched in that same year makes no mention of the closing. Indeed the whole purpose behind the site seems to be that of a facade that all is hunky-dory down in Dickel-land.
Coming hand-in-hand with the closing of the vistors center was the suspension of distilling operations. This situation is said to be temporary. Jennings David 'Dave' Backus is the Master Distiller and is now also the President of George Dickel. "I've worked for Dickel all my life, and I became the Master Distiller in 1978." he said in a telephone interview on December 12th, 2001.Although he has not "distilled for several years" he explains that the shutdown is just a simple "inventory adjustment after several years of overproduction." "It's hard to anticipate demand ten years into the future" says Backus, but he plans to "distil as needed to meet demand." The distillery has eleven single story metal-clad warehouses with a maximum capacity of some 150,000 barrels. "We're very near maximum capacity" states Backus.
On the surface things don't look so good for Dickel. The stelth closing of it's visitors center coupled with the fact that they haven't distilled a drop in "several years" and are still "very near maximum capacity" is disconcerting. While looks can be deceiving there are other disturbing factors that bear scrutiny.
While gathering research for this report I visited the Dickel website and the site's bulletin board. What I found there was both sad but none-the-less noteworthy. One poor fellow had tired three times to join Dickel's 'Water Conservation Society', but had never received any membership materials. Here he was begging someone to please let him join. There was no reply. I tried it myself and got the same thing - nothing. One woman wrote that she and her family had gone to visit last Fourth of July and found the distillery closed. She asked when it would be open for visitors so she could schedule her next vacation. She got no reply. There were four men and one woman from Austrailia stating that Dickel was no longer available to them. They were all just basically begging for Dickel. Same thing with three men from England. Then a woman from Deleware showed up and posted that now she couldn't get Dickel. I had the audacity to actually post some answers to some of these people. The board was shutdown within a few days.
There is every indication that Dickel's sales are declining, but sales figures are hard to come by. George Dickel was always a small southern brand and has been particulary strong in Tennesse; North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi. A very reliable source has kindly supplied the following sales volume (called depletions) measured by actual cases. The numbers have been rounded off.
> > > >1996 > > > > > >2001 > > > > Change
NC > 50,000 cases > > 34,000 cases > -16,000 cases
VA > 20,000 cases > > 10,000 cases > -10,000 cases
AL > 15,000 cases > > > 6,500 cases > - 8,500 cases
MS >>7,000 cases > > > 3,800 cases > - 3,200 cases
That's a five year decline in sales of some 37,700 cases or roughly down 40% in four states that just happen to be some of Dickel's strongest markets.
For the past year or so Dickel #8 has been bottled somewhere in Canada. Part of the purpose of this report was to try to ascertain the where and why of this move, but this aspect proved fruitless. Another source has provided these very acurate figures for sales of #8. 2000: 110,829 cases. 2001: 113,524 cases Change: 2,695 cases or up 2.4% This is encouraging. Whether Dickel has snapped their alarming five year sales slump or not remains to be seen.
Dickel was acuqired by Guinness in 1987. Guinness and United Distillers merged to becom United Distillers and Vintners. U.D.V. in now a wholly owned subsidiary of international drinks giant Diageo plc (public limited Corporation). The legacy of U.D.V. in the American whiskey industry is one of great sorrow. Stitzel-Weller (Old Fitzgerald; W.L.Weller, and Rebel Yell) Bernheim (I.W. Harper and Old Charter) and Glenmore (Glenmore; Ezra Brooks, and Yellowstone) were all distilleries acquired by U.D.V. The most notable fact here is that they were all shutdown never to reopen again under Diageo ownership. In 1999 Diageo sold the Bernhiem distillery along with the Old Fitzgerald label to Heaven Hill. The Old Charter and W.L. Weller labels were sold to Buffalo Trace. Diageo retained ownership of both I.W. Harper and George Dickel neither of which appear among the brands listings on Diageo's own website. Many e-mails were sent to Gary Galanis (marketing) and also Yvonne Harrison (corporate information officer) at Diageo. There has been no reply from either party. This 'batten down the hatches' mentality of Diageo's plus the closing of the Dickel bulletin board tends to reinforce their history in the American whiskey business. Whether or not Diageo is the diabolical destroyer of American distilleries is up to the reader to decide. If Diageo's history is any indication of Dickel's future it is one of impending doom.
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.<P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1>Edited by Linn on Sat Jan 12 04:57:11 2002 (server time).</FONT></P>