Legislative fight rages over new definition of Tennessee whiskey
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — To many, Tennessee means whiskey. But inside the state, the question is: What does Tennessee whiskey mean?
A battle between two worldwide liquor companies — owners of rival brands Jack Daniel’s and smaller rival George Dickel — is being waged over who has the right to label their drink as following authentic Tennessee style. It’s among the epicurean battles being waged around the world over what food and drink should carry special status as local and unique.
London-based liquor conglomerate Diageo PLC opened a heated legislative fight earlier this year seeking to overturn the state’s newly established legal definition for Tennessee whiskey that has been championed by Jack Daniel’s, which is owned by Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman Corp. Among the new rules are requirements that whiskey must be aged in new, charred oak barrels in Tennessee and filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging.
Dickel’s owners say they conform with the traditional methods laid out in the state law, but they have cited several reasons for challenging the statute. They include that a potential shortage of new American oak barrels could threaten production and that future products made by Dickel and the growing number of craft distillers in the state shouldn’t be bound by law to follow the old ways.
Some advocates feared a successful challenge by Dickel of the storage statute could give way to a legal challenge of the overall Tennessee whiskey law.
Tuesday, in a separate but related case, the Diageo subsidiary George Dickel came out on top when state attorneys in Nashville abruptly dropped a complaint that Dickel had violated a state statute prohibiting the aging of Tennessee-made whiskey outside its boundaries. Dickel had challenged the statute in federal court, claiming it violated laws on free interstate commerce.