Tennessee whiskey feud put on ice

26th March, 2014 by Becky Paskin

The adoption of a controversial new law allowing the reuse of barrels in the production of Tennessee whiskey has been postponed to give the industry a chance to voice their opinions.

Jack-Daniel's-barrel

Jack Daniel’s has welcomed the decision to halt changes to the definition of Tennessee whiskey

The Tennessee state legislative voted yesterday (25 March) to send a bill governing the production methods of Tennessee whiskey to a study committee this summer, rather than push through changes proposed by Diageo now.

A feud over the issue has been bubbling over the past few weeks, since the British drinks group suggested American oak barrels already used for Bourbon could be used in the Tennessee whiskey production process.

Brown-Forman, producer of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey last year backed the introduction of the Tennessee whiskey regulations, which like Bourbon, requires whiskey to be made from at least 51% corn, aged in new, charred oak barrels at an entry proof of 62.5%. But the law also requires Tennessee whiskey to be produced and matured within the State and undergo a charcoal-filtration process – a key characteristic of Jack Daniel’s.

Diageo, which produces its own Tennessee whiskey, George Dickel, claims the law as it stands “stifles competition” by not allowing smaller distillers to experiment with different used barrels.

“This is about Brown-Forman trying to stifle… the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers,” said Guy L Smith IV, Diageo executive vice-president. “We are not sure what they are afraid of, as we feel new innovative products from a new breed of distillers is healthy for the entire industry.”

Diageo has since welcomed the decision to send the matter to a study committee for “proper industry input”.

“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. This is a good day for Tennessee, for distillers big and small, and for consumers of Tennessee whiskey.”

Brown-Forman also welcomed the news, albeit in a different light. “This essentially stops the debate on what is good whiskey and gets us back to producing good whiskey,” said Brown-Forman senior vice president Jim O’Malley.

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