There's a Serious Whiskey War Going On in Tennessee

At the root of it: the law that defines just what Tennessee whiskey is

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 18, 2014 7:26 AM CDT | Updated Mar 22, 2014 12:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – What is Tennessee whiskey? Well, according to a year-old law, in order to call your product that, it must be made ... almost exactly the way Jack Daniel's is made. That is, as the AP puts it:

  • It must be "fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof."
Not surprisingly, Jack Daniel's parent company Brown-Forman Corp. wants to protect that law—which was passed mostly at the company's request—so it's pushing back against state lawmakers who want to ease it a bit by allowing whiskey makers to reuse old barrels as part of the process, at a potential savings of $600 a pop. The proposed changes would also roll back the filtering requirements, the Wall Street Journal reports, and Brown-Forman has gone so far as to say Tennessee whiskey is "under attack."

The changes, lawmakers say, would make it easier for craft distilleries to sell their own versions of Tennessee whiskey. It would also ensure that not all Tennessee whiskey tastes exactly like Jack Daniel's, notes a lobbyist supporting the change. But Brown-Forman thinks the competitor that urged the move—Diageo PLC, which owns No. 2 Tennessee whiskey brand George Dickel but sells only about 1% of what Jack Daniel's does—is attempting to "dramatically diminish the quality and integrity" of the state's whiskey, and, in the words of the Journal, "make it inferior to bourbon." In other Jack Daniel's news, the company is testing a cinnamon whiskey in Tennessee, Oregon, and Pennsylvania next month, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

In this Dec. 5, 2011 file photo, bottles of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, line the shelves of a liquor outlet, in Montpelier, Vt.
In this Dec. 5, 2011 file photo, bottles of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, line the shelves of a liquor outlet, in Montpelier, Vt.   (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
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