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Tennessee Whiskey Law: Proposed Reform Concerns Jack Daniels

Image: Tennessee Whiskey Law: Proposed Reform Concerns Jack Daniels

Tuesday, 18 Mar 2014 02:05 PM

By Michael Mullins

Tennessee's whiskey law has intensified the ongoing battle between Jack Daniels and other distilleries in the Volunteer State, particularly Diageo PLC, the massive British alcoholic beverage company that distills whiskey just 15 miles up the road from Jack Daniels.

The law, which was passed last year, states that whiskey distilled in Tennessee must be fermented from a mash of at least 51 percent corn and aged in new charred oak barrels before it is filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, The Associated Press reported.

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Any deviations from the law would disqualify a distillery from labeling the product "Tennessee Whiskey," which is considered a powerful brand in the booming American liquor business.

State lawmakers are now reportedly considering scaling back the law to make it easier for other distilleries in the state to produce whiskey.

Jack Daniels opposes the proposed relaxation of the legislation, arguing the law ensures the state's whiskey will have a distinct, consistent taste.

"It's really more to weaken a title on a label that we've worked very hard for," Jeff Arnett, the master distiller at the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., told the AP. "As a state, I don't think Tennessee should be bashful about being protective of Tennessee whiskey over say bourbon or scotch or any of the other products that we compete with."

Not surprisingly, Diageo Executive Vice President Guy L. Smith IV does not agree.

"This isn't about Diageo, as all of our Tennessee whiskey is made with new oak. This is about Brown-Forman trying to stifle competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers," Smith said, according to the AP.

Brown-Forman is the Louisville, Ky.-based spirits and wine company that owns Jack Daniels, along with Southern Comfort, Finlandia Vodka, Canadian Mist, Korbel champagne, and others.

"We are not sure what they are afraid of, as we feel new innovative products from a new breed of distillers is healthy for the entire industry," Smith added.

Industry giants like Diageo aren't the only ones in favor of a rewrite of the current Tennessee whiskey law, with smaller distilleries also favoring changes to the statute.

"If I made whiskey in Tennessee in a used barrel, what it would be called then? Whiskey, made in Tennessee?" Billy Kaufman, president Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury, Tenn., asked the AP.

Lobbyist David McMahan, who represents Dickel and Popcorn Sutton Distilling, argued that the challenge some small distilleries are facing in Tennessee today is "not unlike if the beer guys 25 years ago had said all American beer has to be made like Budweiser. You never would have a Sam Adams or a Yazoo or any of those guys."

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