Under state law, "Tennessee whiskey" has a specific meaning: The liquor must be made in-state from mash that's at least 51 percent corn, fermented in brand-new (and charred) oak barrels, charcoal-mellowed, then bottled at 80 proof or better. Otherwise, it has to be called something else. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Now, however, the definition has suddenly become contentious. "What gives them the right to call theirs Tennessee whiskey, and not others?" one lawmaker is asking. He's introduced a bill to change a rule he says disadvantages burgeoning micro-distilleries (new barrels can run $600 apiece). The problem is that he also admits he did it at Jack Daniel's rival Diageo's urging.
This in turn hasn't pitted Jack Daniel's against small distillers, who might cut some costs by allowing barrel reuse, so much as against ironically the world's largest producer of spirits, whose portfolio includes brands like Smirnoff, Guinness, Veuve Clicquot, and George Dickel, a Tennessee whiskey made 15 minutes from Jack Daniel's Lynchburg distillery. "This is not about the interests of micro-distillers in our state," says Jeff Arnett, Jack Daniel's master distiller. "We support micro-distillers. This is about Diageo, a large foreign company with more interest in Scotch and Bourbon, trying to weaken what Tennessee whiskey is, and we simply shouldn't allow it."
Diageo, predictably, has taken the opposite position, depicting Jack Daniel's as a bully trying to stifle a "new breed of distillers" by blocking the rule change. "This isn't about Diageo, as all of our Tennessee whiskey is made with new oak," the company's executive vice president told AP. "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."
Jack Daniel's Opposes Changing Tenn. Whiskey Law [AP]
Jack Daniel's Defends Tennessee Whiskey Definition from Diageo [The Spirits Business]