Jack Daniel's opposes changing Tennessee whiskey law

State lawmakers are considering dialing back some stringent requirements that they say make it too difficult for craft distilleries to market their spirits as Tennessee whiskey, a distinctive and popular draw in the booming American liquor business.
By ERIK SCHELZIG and BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press Published: March 20, 2014
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If it isn’t fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, it isn’t Tennessee whiskey. So says a year-old law that resembles almost to the letter the process used to make Jack Daniel’s, the world’s best-known Tennessee whiskey.

Now state lawmakers are considering dialing back some of those requirements that they say make it too difficult for craft distilleries to market their spirits as Tennessee whiskey, a distinctive and popular draw in the booming American liquor business.

But the people behind Jack Daniel’s see the hand of a bigger competitor at work — Diageo PLC, the British conglomerate that owns George Dickel, another Tennessee whiskey made about 15 miles up the road.

“It’s really more to weaken a title on a label that we’ve worked very hard for,” said Jeff Arnett, the master distiller at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn. “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.”

Republican state Rep. Bill Sanderson emphasized that his bill wouldn’t do away with last year’s law enacted largely on the behest of Jack Daniel’s corporate parent, Louisville, Ky.,-based Brown-Forman Corp. The principal change would be to allow Tennessee whiskey makers to reuse barrels, which he said would present considerable savings over new ones that can cost $600 each.

“There are a lot of ways to make high-quality whiskey, even if it’s not necessarily the way Jack Daniel’s does it,” Sanderson said. “What gives them the right to call theirs Tennessee whiskey, and not others?”

Sanderson said he introduced the measure at Diageo’s urging, but it would also help micro distilleries opening across the state.

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