Lawmaker Argues Jack Daniels Has Monopoly On Tennessee Whiskey Title

Jack Daniel's and some lawmaker are embroiled in heated debate over the official definition of Tennessee whiskey. Only whiskey fermented in the state from mash comprised from at least 50 percent corn, aged in new charred barrels, filtered through maple charcoal, and bottled at least a minimum of 80 proof can boast the coveted designation, according to a Tennessee law passed last year.

Whiskey competitors and some lawmakers in the state are now pushing for a repeal of the Tennessee whiskey law, claiming it "almost to the letter" describes the Jack Daniels distilling process. Those who oppose the law claim that the guidelines are too stringent and need to be scaled back to allow for craft distilleries and others to market their products with the phrase Tennessee whisky on the bottle. Such a phrase allegedly provides and edge in the booze business.

Jack Daniel's feels that not craft distilleries but the actions of a big competitor, Diageo PLC, are behind the movement to change the Tennessee whiskey law. Diageo PLC owns George Dickel, a distillery located just a few miles up the road from the Jack Daniel's operation.

Master Distiller at the Lynchburg, Tennessee Jack Daniels Jeff Arnett had this to say about the Tennessee whisky title battle:

"It's really more to weaken a title on a label that we've worked very hard for. As a state, I don't think Tennessee should be bashful about being protective of Tennessee whisky over say bourbon or scotch or any of the other products that we compete with."
Republican State Representative Bill Sanderson told local media that the proposed changes to the whiskey title guidelines would not erase last year's legislation. The primary change would reportedly permit whiskey makers in the state to reuse barrels and create production costs savings. New whiskey barrels reportedly cost about $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. What gives them the right to call theirs Tennessee whiskey and not others," Sanderson said.

The Republican state representative noted that he did introduce the whiskey law change at the behest of Diageo's George Dickel group, but also believes it will aid micro distilleries opening in the state. "This isn't about Diageo, as all of our whiskey is made with new oak. This is about Brown-Forman trying to stifle competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers," company vice president Guy L. Smith IV said.

The George Dickel officer also said he is not sure what Jack Daniel's is "afraid of." The Tennessee whiskey designation is an extension of similar guideline created for bourbon decades ago.

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