Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tennessee Whiskey Law

When it comes to making good old American Tennessee whiskey, there are rules in place in order for it to be branded as such. Some of you may have recently read in the news that there has been discussion on "loosening" some of the requirements in order to be labeled and sold as "Tennessee whiskey."

Of course there are two sides to the issue. The producers of Jack Daniels are livid about these possible changes. This particular company seems to be the most influenced and is arguing against these changes to the law. Others are seeing it as a way to allow more of the "little guys" a fair chance at the market. 

Law states that true "Tennessee whiskey" needs to be made from at least 51 percent corn mash, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal, bottled at a minimum of 80 proof and -- of course -- made in the state of Tennessee. These are pretty clear cut rules which Jack Daniels follows to a T.

When whiskey is made, it is clear in color when it goes into the barrel. It's during this aging process that the whiskey acquires color and flavors from the barrel itself. There is discussion of changes to the law allowing producers to reuse the barrels that the whiskey is stored in over and over to save themselves money. These barrels are not cheap... the current cost for a new charred oak barrel is over $500 each. Some argue that distillers reusing barrels may then resort to using artificial colorings and flavorings that wouldn't match the quality of the whiskey stored in new barrels.

Jack Daniels View
Jack Daniels sees this as a way to weaken the title of its world famous whiskey that it has worked hard at creating for almost 150 years. It believes that the state of Tennessee should be protective of its whiskey law and says that its biggest competitor, Diageo, the British corporation that owns George Dickel, is behind the push for these changes in a battle over sales. The standards of Tennessee whiskey are an outgrowth of the special designation granted long ago to bourbon. Years 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. Why would the law be any different for Tennessee whiskey?

The Other Side
As always, there are views on both sides of the issue. Many argue the current law requires that all Tennessee whiskey pretty much tastes just like Jack Daniels. Lawmakers claim, "There are a lot of ways to make high-quality whiskey..... what gives Jack Daniels the right to call theirs Tennessee whiskey, and not others?" They also believe it will then allow smaller micro distilleries to bring themselves into the market. This new breed of distillers would be overall healthy to the entire whiskey industry. Jack counters with the thought that by allowing lower standards, it could essentially lead to a lower reputation of all Tennessee whiskey.

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