April 10, 2015 – Backers of a move to repeal Tennessee’s state “whiskey law” have given up on hopes to repeal the two-year-old law this year, but will try again next year. The “Tennessee Whiskey Law” passed in 2013 requires distillers to meet essentially the same production standards required for Bourbons and use the “Lincoln County Process” of charcoal filtering in order to be able to use “Tennessee Whiskey” on their labels. The repeal drive was led by several small distillers, along with the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity activist group, and their repeal bill had been scheduled for committee votes in both the Tennessee House and Senate Tuesday before the decision to pull the bill from the agenda and try to build more support before the next session.
“Clearly we were happy with the outcome…we’re hoping that this will be the last year that we have to fight it,” said Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett in a telephone interview. The original law was passed after heavy lobbying from Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman, which wanted to enshrine the standards it uses for its Tennessee whiskies in state law as a way to keep the “Tennessee Whiskey” brand from being diluted as more distilleries open in the state.
Arnett cited support from the Tennessee Distillers Guild for keeping the new law in place. The Guild was formed after the law passed, and while its membership is made up primarily of craft distillers producing moonshine, members include Diageo’s George Dickel Distillery, Corsair Artisan Distillery, and Pritchard’s Distillery as well as Jack Daniel’s. The four distilleries produce almost all of the aged Tennessee Whiskey on the market, though Jack Daniel’s remains by far the market leader as one of the world’s best-selling whiskies with annual sales of more than 11 million cases globally.
While Diageo had criticized the law after its passage and fought last year for repeal or modifications, the leading critics this year were Full Throttle Distillery partners Michael Ballard and Jesse James Dupree. The two wanted to make “Trimble Tennessee Whiskey” at their distillery in Trimble, Tennessee, but say they can’t use that name because they don’t want to make their whiskey the way the state law demands. Ballard told the Associated Press that Brown-Forman was trying to “bully” smaller distillers into complying with their demands and accused the industry leader of buying support from craft distillers by supplying them with barrels. Dupree, who also bottles his own Jesse James brand of whiskey and is best known for performing with the band Jackyl, has promised to put plans to build his own distillery in Trimble on hold until the law is repealed.