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Jack Daniel's opposes changing Tenn. Whiskey law



By ERIK SCHELZIG and BRUCE SCHREINER
- Mar. 17, 2014 5:04 AM EDT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - 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 acknowledged that he introduced the measure at Diageo's urging, but said it would also help micro distilleries opening across the state. Diageo picked up on the same theme.

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

"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," he said.

The standards and special branding of Tennessee whiskey are an outgrowth of the special designation granted long ago to bourbon. A half-century ago, Congress declared bourbon a distinctive product of the United States. By law, bourbon must be made of a grain mix of at least 51 percent corn, distilled at less than 160 proof, have no additives except water to reduce the proof and be aged in new, charred white oak barrels.

Spirits that don't follow those guidelines can't be sold as bourbon. One example is Brown-Forman's own Early Times, which is marketed as a "Kentucky whisky" because it is made in reused barrels.

Billy Kaufman, the president Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury, Tenn., said it is more difficult to distinguish spirits not meeting the Tennessee standard.

"If I made whiskey in Tennessee in a used barrel, what it would be called then?" he said. "Whiskey, made in Tennessee?"

David McMahan, a lobbyist representing Dickel and Popcorn Sutton Distilling, said the law passed last year would require all Tennessee whiskies to taste like Jack Daniel's.

"It's not unlike if the beer guys 25 years ago had said all American beer has to be made like Budweiser," McMahan said. "You never would have a Sam Adams or a Yazoo or any of those guys."

But Tennessee craft distillers are divided about the state law. Charles Nelson, the CEO of Nelson's Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, said he supports tighter regulation.

"Holding ourselves to a higher standard will ultimately be better for all the people in the category," he said. "If we lower the standards, it could lead to more products and brands that could lower the reputation of Tennessee whiskey."

Whiskey is clear when it goes into the barrel. It's during the aging process that the whiskey acquires color and flavors. Jack Daniel's Arnett said other distillers reusing barrels might resort to using artificial colorings and flavorings that wouldn't match the quality of the whiskey stored in new barrels.

"We've been making whiskey a long time, and we know that would not uphold the quality that people expect from Tennessee whiskey," he said. "So we wouldn't dare consider doing it, even though it would save us millions of dollars every year."

Jack Daniel's stores its whiskey in new barrels made at a Brown-Forman plant.

Sanderson argues that the flavor and color of the whiskey is determined more by the charring of the inside of the barrels, which he said is a process that can be repeated. Consumers would ultimately decide whether the end product matches up.

"If they're making an inferior product, the market will decide," he said.

___

Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Ky

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
veterian74 March 17 2014 at 7:53 PM

Here we go again, the government getting involved and screwing it up. We have to pass it, to see what’s in it, or you can keep your whiskey and your beer, we just want to redistribute and take the money.

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rlpjr2 March 17 2014 at 8:28 PM

Why change a good thing...Like the old saying..."If its not broken don't fix it" A huge waste of time... I love Jack and George so leave good enough alone lawyers stay out of this business and let them make good Whiskey...

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Grant March 17 2014 at 12:18 PM

Sanderson kicking off his un-election campaign, strong start.

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gilbertmelton March 17 2014 at 12:17 PM

A true Jack Daniels person will only buy the real thing. It is a cheap political manuever to get foriegn competitors to horn in on the business that the owners of Jack Daniels has buitl over a century and a half.

Make competitors lable who they are and what their contents are.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
John Miller March 17 2014 at 12:17 PM

State on the label if it is stored in new or used barrels. Let the consumers decide which they like best.

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2 replies
ttoozz John Miller March 17 2014 at 12:30 PM

That's the point. Calling the whiskey 'Tennessee' states that it isin deed stored in a 'charred new wite oak barrel.'

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Keith Johnson John Miller March 17 2014 at 1:15 PM

The consumer shouldn't have to decide. What became of truth in advertising? I want to know what I'm buying is the "Real McCoy".

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Jim March 17 2014 at 8:30 PM

You can bet that this is all about which company paid the most money to the lawmaker introducing the new law. Corporations would love to convince you it's their business acumen and interest in protecting the consumer that drives them and determines their success. I still think it's all about contributions to political war chests.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
JIM ISHOO March 17 2014 at 12:15 PM

We got rid of the british 236 years ago, send them back to where they came from and let them take pierce morgan the ass with them. Jack Daniels is our whiskey, and we are proud of it. Cheers

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1 reply
Bob JIM ISHOO March 17 2014 at 12:24 PM

I like thier brothers better, You know them as Jim & Beam !!!!!!!!!

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2 replies
ttoozz Bob March 17 2014 at 12:34 PM

Bourbons -to be called Tennessee whiskey it must be made to the same standard as Bourbon, but in Tennessee. Boubon must be made in certain counties in Kentucky for the water from limestone springs. These are quality standards.

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Keith Johnson Bob March 17 2014 at 1:42 PM

Jack Daniels and Jim Beam are not brothers, they're distant cousins at best. Jim Beam is made in Clermont, Kentucky which is in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and to be called bourbon it must come from there. Beam is not the only bourbon though; Old Grand-Dad and Maker's Mark are also members of the Jim Beam family. There are numerous bourbons on the market including Wild Turkey for one, and all are from Kentucky.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourbon_whiskey
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker%27s_Mark
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Turkey_(bourbon)

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dracura94 March 17 2014 at 12:14 PM

There has to be a point at which someone says "ENOUGH". I lived in Tennesse when governors Jake Butcher and Ray Blanton were among the most notorious political criminals of the 20th century. There comes a point when a guy needs to corner sate legislators and politicians, grab them by the collar, and say "I know you, I know your address, and I know about your family; get right or get used to sorrow and pain.

I have no criminal record. The law is irrelevant to me as I by nature simply do what I believe is right. Turns out most laws agree with my beliefs. It is not my belief that the law should be used as a weapon or detriment. If I had cancer I would establish a fake address in Colorado in order to get medicinal marijuana for treatment in my state. Often the law is wrong. I've never minded and have always chosen right over law when they disagree. This is the spiritually correct path.

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PUDGY March 17 2014 at 12:12 PM

I WANT TO KNOW HOW MUCH DID SANDERSON GET PAID OFF?????? U.S.ATHONEY GENERAL SHOULD LOOK INTO HIS DEALINGS. THIS REALLY SMELLS

Flag Reply +1 rate up
ebrndaedwds March 17 2014 at 12:11 PM

Sorry but all Tennessee whiskey does not taste the same. The other 49% mixture is different for each company. He was paid and well greased palms will ruin Tennessee whiskey.

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1 reply
jdm61cc ebrndaedwds March 17 2014 at 12:22 PM

The 49% mixture is rarely 49%. 51% corn is the minimum for bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, but as far as I know, Weller and maybe Van Winkle are the only major brands that come close to using those lower amounts of corn in the mash bill,. Makers Mark uses a bit more corn than they do but most brands use as much as 75% corn. The rest is typically a mix of barley and rye. The " wheated" bourbons like Weller, Van Winkle and Makers Mark replace the rye with wheat.

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