August 15, 2015 – Russian officials have expanded their sanctions against American whiskey to take on the largest brand in the business with a targeted action against Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and its cousin, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Liqueur. According to the Moscow Times, which cited a state-controlled ITAR-TASS news agency report, regional food safety officials in Sverdlovsk plan to confiscate all of the Jack Daniel’s products being sold in the region for alleged violations of Russian labeling laws. The report says alcohol bottles must include a list of ingredients, the location of the distillery, and the “length of the distilling process” — all in Russian. A spokeswoman for Russia’s food safety agency says the Jack Daniel’s labels in question met none of those standards. and also expressed concerns that Jim Beam’s labels may also not be in compliance.
“We’ve been selling Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey in Russia for 15 years, and we’ve been in compliance with all regulatory and labeling requirements throughout that 15-year period of time,” Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview. “There’s no difference in the Jack Daniel’s being sold today in Russia, and of course, throughout the rest of the world, from the Jack Daniel’s we’ve ben selling in Russia for the past 15 years…so if there are any labeling compliance issues, it must be because the Russian authorities have changed the regulations without informing us and giving us any time to comply.” Lynch noted that Brown-Forman has received no notification of any issues from the Russian government. While declining to provide specific data, Lynch said Russia is one of the top ten export markets for the Jack Daniel’s brand.
The food safety agency is also taking issue with the honey-flavored Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey expression over what the ITAR-TASS report called “chemical substances not common to whiskey.” Lynch described the concerns as either “ignorance or politics,” since Tennessee Honey is not labeled as a whisky. “It is a liqueur and it meets all the specifications and standards in Russia as a liqueur,” Lynch said. “We did not comply with the whiskey specifications for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey because it is not a whiskey, so the government agency in the Ural Mountains that tested it as a whiskey doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing.”
The ITAR-TASS report also cites the agency spokeswoman as saying the labels on Jim Beam Bourbon sold in the Sverdlovsk region also violate legal requirements. WhiskyCast has asked Beam Suntory executives for any confirmation they may have received from Russia.
Last week, the Russian consumer protection agency moved to block imports of Sazerac’s Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon based on allegations that laboratory analysis found evidence of phthalates in the whiskey, and has since banned imports of beer and spirits from Ukraine along with a wider ban on most food products from Western nations. Russian officials have long used the food safety and consumer protection agencies as tools in foreign policy disputes, and the recent round of sanctions has been regarded as retaliation for sanctions imposed by the US, European Union, and other allies against Russia for its support of rebel forces in Ukraine.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a link to the Moscow Times coverage, along with additional information from the ITAR-TASS reports citing a potential problem with Jim Beam labels.