Dickel’s New General Manager: Nicole Austin

May 30, 2018

Whiskey used to be a black box, an esoteric and impenetrable secret society that closed its doors tightly against the outside world. Thanks in part to a boom in the category over the last two decades, that’s all changing. New generations of distillers and blenders pushed their way into the industry, breathing new energy and excitement into distilleries throughout the country. The latest to break through to the top-tier of distillers is 33-year-old Nicole Austin, recently named General Manager for George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey’s Cascade Hollow Distillery.

In a statement from Diageo, Austin reflected on her new role. "There are so many reasons why I know this position will be a great fit for me,” she said, “from the jaw dropping beauty of Cascade Hollow to the incredible history of George Dickel," adding "Ultimately, it is the freedom to make Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. my home that made up my mind. I've worn a lot of hats in my career which have prepared me for this moment."

A Neat Career

Austin’s name is likely already familiar to anyone who follows the whiskey industry, as she has been making headlines for her achievements in blending and distilling for the better part of a decade. In her new role, she will establish the vision of what Dickel can be, and ignite commercial and innovation strategies for the brand. She will also be the steward for Dickel’s 148-year legacy. Getting to this point was no small feat for Austin, and her path to Cascade Hollow was circuitous, starting with a degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College. After college, Austin worked as an environmental engineer, a role she found unfulfilling, before being turned onto whiskey distilling by a bartender in Brooklyn.

“I just had that moment of like … I know how to distill things, what have I been doing with my life? Why didn’t anyone tell me this was a thing? That’s literally what chemical engineers go to school to learn how to do. So that was it,” Austin told The Tennessean earlier this year.

Following this revelation, Austin dedicated herself to breaking into the industry, eventually succeeding in wedging her foot in the door at Kings County Distillery in New York. “I didn’t have the right last name to work in Kentucky or the right degree for Scotland,” Austin told The Tennessean, so “In 2010, Kings County got the license to distill … and I basically knocked on their door and was like, 'I’m going to work for you now. I’m done asking, I’m telling.’”

Making it Look Easy

Just two years later, she caught the attention of distilling icon Dave Pickerell, who chose her to be the first employee for his new Oak View Spirits consulting firm, where she had her hands in every part of the business, from sourcing raw materials to negotiating contracts. In a 2013 profile for Time Out New York, Austin was effusive about her time so far in the industry, saying “I feel like I haven’t gone to work for a single day since I quit my old job. I worked for an environmental engineering firm. It was a corporate job. That felt like going to work. But with distilling, it hardly ever feels like work.” Austin makes it look easy, too. In 2015, a rye whiskey she helped create at Kings County won Double Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition.

Just a year later, in 2016, William Grant & Sons hired her as the Project Commissioning Engineer for Tullamore DEW’s distillery in Ireland, where she was until the clarion call of America’s bourbon heartland called her back this year. Diageo, owners of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey, picked Austin to set the direction for the newly-renamed distillery now and for years to come. In a statement from the company, Sophie Kelly, SVP of North American Whiskey, sang Austin’s praises. "Nicole is absolutely perfect to lead Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. because she brings so much to the table," said Kelly. "Not only is she an established chemical engineer and distiller, she has a real business mind, an entrepreneurial spirit and a true vision for the future of the company, its brands and the category. Most importantly, she has all the energy, passion and tenacity to make it real."

“It’s an entrepreneurial role—that’s what was most appealing to me,” Austin recently told SevenFifty. “They want me to have responsibility across all aspects: production, strategic planning, how we spend our budget, and also marketing and the broad strategy of the brand.”

Handmade in Good Hands

Her role also means that Austin is responsible for protecting Dickel’s incredible legacy. “First and foremost, my goal is transparency.” she recently told Breakthru, and further elaborated on the “guiding principles that represent who I am and what I stand for.” Austin is committed to maintaining the high quality of Dickel spirits, while promoting environmental safety, and respecting the Dickel process.

Austin cites “honesty, authenticity, and integrity” as guiding her decisions as she balances her duty to her employees, the industry, her community, the company and its owners, the larger global community, and, lastly, herself. “Ethical decision-making must consider all of these stakeholders,” she told us.

Her career up until now has been incredible, and Austin is excited to explore this new position. “Now, it's time for me to draw from [my] experiences and build a business that creates a fundamental step change in how people think about Tennessee Whiskey,” she said. “I'm proud to be here and ready to get to work."

We are proud to work with Dickel Tennessee Whiskey, and we are excited to see where Austin’s leadership takes it in the years to come. Talk to your Breakthru Sales Consultant about how to grow your business with Dickel and the full lineup of Diageo spirits.
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