Senate ‘parks’ Tennessee whiskey bill

By Doug Newhouse |

Brown Forman’s Jack Daniel’s has seen a legal challenge by Diageo to the definition of Tennessee whiskey effectively ‘dismissed’ for the time being.


After much initial excitement earlier this month, the State Senate ‘parked’ the legislation last week, electing to put the existing rules on Tennessee whiskey production ‘under study’. The Senate said that it will now seek opinions on the issue from the industry as a whole before revisiting it – possibly next year.


At the heart of this dispute is the existing standard that applies before any whiskey can be called ‘Tennessee Whiskey’. This was created, approved and signed into legislation by the Governor and the General Assembly last year. In essence, this requires the product to be made from fermented mash of at least 51% corn, aged in new oak barrels, charcoal mellowed and stored in the State.


Battle lines were effectively drawn in a war of words earlier this month when Diageo – which owns the George Dickel brand of whiskey – challenged the definition. Diageo claimed the definition was unfair and favoured the Jack Daniel’s brand. Last week it also claimed a minor moral victory based on the State Senate’s recommendation for a moratorium with the industry the issue to be held over the next year.




But the reality is that any window of opportunity that Diageo might have had has almost certainly blown shut for the time being.


Both Brown Forman and Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett made it known to anyone who would listen that any efforts to undercut the ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ designation would create an ‘inferior product, with Arnett particularly vociferous when Diageo first made its legal challenge public.


He said: “What we have here is nothing more than an effort to allow manufacturers to deviate from that standard, produce a product that’s inferior to bourbon and label it ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ while undermining the process we’ve worked for nearly 150 years to protect.”


He added: “This is not about the interests of micro distillers in our State. 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.” It seems that the Senate agrees… at least for now.


TOP IMAGE: Over a barrel: Brown Forman is one of the few spirit giants around the world to own its own cooperage and new oak barrels – required by law to produce Tennessee Whiskey’. But these are extremely expensive. Last year, Jack Daniel’s sold more than 11m cases, while Diageo’s George Dickel brand sold 130,000 cases.


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