There is a time-honored definition of Tennessee whiskey: it has to be fermented in the Volunteer State from mash containing 51 percent corn, aged in new barrels of charred oak, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at 80 proof or more. Which sounds rather like Jack Daniel’s, the best-selling Tennessee whiskey.
Wait, what? That definition dates back to … 2013?
[S]tate 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.
The Tennessee law apparently is modeled on the Federal definition of bourbon. (Yes, Cynthiana, there is a Federal definition of bourbon.)
Diageo’s representative says the law would basically require all Tennessee whiskey 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… You never would have a Sam Adams or a Yazoo or any of those guys.”
Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) proposes to loosen the definition only slightly:
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?”
Benjamin Prichard was not available for comment.