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Tennessee Lawmakers Considering Options For Whiskey Law

March 19, 2014 – No action came during Tuesday’s Tennessee General Assembly hearings on proposals to change the Jack Daniel’s-backed law passed last year that sets strict standards for what can be called “Tennessee Whiskey”. Critics of the law want to either repeal the entire law or roll back provisions that require the use of new charred oak barrels and charcoal filtering (the “Lincoln County Process”). According to The Tennesseean, the bill’s House sponsor says last year’s legislation overstepped their boundaries. “We’re going to make something right that we did wrong last year,” Rep. Bill Sanderson told the newspaper.

Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman pushed for the law last year to establish standards similar to those for Bourbon, Scotch Whisky, Champagne, and other products with geographic designations. Jack Daniel’s is the largest Tennessee Whiskey producer, with 11.5 million cases of Jack Daniel’s Black Label sold worldwide last year, and Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch accused Diageo Friday of attempting to undermine the category on fears that Jack Daniel’s sales were cutting into sales of Johnnie Walker and Diageo’s other Scotch whisky brands. Diageo owns the second-largest Tennessee distillery, the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, and has joined forces with many of the state’s craft distillers to overturn the 2013 legislation. They see the 2013 law as anti-competitive and allowing one dominant company to dictate standards for the rest of the industry.

Tuesday, a Tennessee House committee considered proposals to repeal the law entirely or modify it to require only that whiskey be fermented, distilled, and matured within the state in order to carry the “Tennessee Whiskey” designation, but took no votes. The Senate State Government Committee was scheduled to consider similar proposals, but ran out of time during Tuesday’s meeting.

Brown-Forman executives say the original law protects the quality of “Tennessee Whiskey” by banning whiskies made using “inferior” production methods from hurting the state’s reputation, and have vowed to fight to keep any changes from being made to the 2013 law. The company has its own supporters within the General Assembly, and the debate could last through the remaining weeks of this year’s session, which is expected to end around May 1.

Links: Brown-Forman | Jack Daniel’s | Diageo | George Dickel | Tennessee General Assembly