March 25, 2014 – With no agreement between competing Tennessee distillers on proposed changes to the state’s 2013 law setting specific standards for “Tennessee Whiskey”, Sen. Mark Green followed through on his threat to pull the bill from the floor and refer it to a “summer study” committee. During an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie last Friday, Green said he wanted a “win-win” compromise that would be supported by all of the state’s distillers while helping smaller ones become more competitive.
The referral means changes won’t be considered during this year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to end around May 1, and is a short-term victory for Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman, which pushed for passage of the original legislation last year. That law requires any whiskey carrying the designation “Tennessee Whiskey” to be matured in new charred oak barrels and conform to other production standards as Bourbons, along with using charcoal “filtering” (also known as the “Lincoln County Process”). Brown-Forman wanted the law in order to keep producers of unaged white whiskies and moonshine from being able to call their products “Tennessee Whiskey”. However, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission has interpreted the law to allow the use of modifying words such as “White” between “Tennessee” and “Whiskey”.
A group of distillers led by George Dickel owner Diageo asked Sen. Green to sponsor changes amending the 2013 law to allow smaller distillers to use “rejuvenated casks”, in which layers of wood that had been saturated with whiskey in previous uses is removed to expose fresher wood. Green had supported the idea on the grounds that it would allow small-scale distillers to save money, but ran into opposition from Brown-Forman and a handful of other small-scale distillers. In a news release, Diageo executive Guy L. Smith IV called the “summer study” referral a positive step.
“The Tennessee legislature has done the right thing and now, rather than having one company dictate for everyone, we can do this the right way and come together in an open forum to discuss how to create the best standards for Tennessee whiskey. In the meantime, we will continue to make George Dickel the same way we always have. This is a good day for Tennessee, for distillers big and small, and for consumers of Tennessee whiskey.”
However, it should be noted that General Assembly observers have referred to “summer study” as a place where “bills go to die quietly” and there are no guarantees that changes would be introduced in the 2015 legislative session.
This story will be updated as more details become available.