Alcohol

Jack Daniel's Favors Tennessee Whiskey Law Defining Tennessee Whiskey as Jack Daniel's

|

kev-shine/Flickr

Tennessee whiskey maker Jack Daniel's is an unsurprisingly big fan of a local law that basically defines whiskey by standards set by Jack Daniel's. Under current Tennessee law, only locally-made spirits fermented from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof can legally be labeled "Tennessee whiskey." Not coincidentally, that's "almost to the letter the process used to make Jack Daniel's," The Associated Press reports. 

This narrow definition of Tennessee whiskey is harming craft distilleries, claim opponents, who are pushing a new bill that would loosen the state's whiskey definition. Either smaller distilleries go their own way and forego the label (and its marketing benefits), or they make whiskey that ends up tasting more or less like Jack Daniel's. "This would be similar to Anheuser-Busch saying, 'You have to use this recipe to call yourselves an American beer,'" state Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) told The Tennessean. "I don't think it's right that we put something in our law that is basically protectionism."  

But there's more intrigue in this whiskey war: Jack Daniel's says the true instigator of changing the law is British conglomerate Diageo PLC, maker of George Dickel, another official "Tennessee whiskey" and Jack Daniel's biggest competitor. Republican state Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton), who introduced the new measure, acknowledged that he did so at Diageo's bequest. But he also said the bill would help the state's burgeoning micro-distillery scene. 

… Sanderson emphasized that his bill wouldn't do away with last year's law enacted largely on the behest of Jack Daniel's corporate parent, Louisville, Ky.,-based Brown-Forman Corp. The principal change would be to allow Tennessee whiskey makers to reuse barrels, which he said would present considerable savings over new ones that can cost $600 each.

"There are a lot of ways to make high-quality whiskey, even if it's not necessarily the way Jack Daniel's does it," Sanderson said. "What gives them the right to call theirs Tennessee whiskey, and not others?"

[..] "This isn't about Diageo, as all of our Tennessee whiskey is made with new oak," said Diageo executive vice president Guy L. Smith IV. "This is about Brown-Forman trying to stifle competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers.

In neighboring Kentucky, the new/old barrel distinction is similarly critical when it comes to bourbon. Early Times, from Jack Daniel's parent Brown-Forman, is marketed as Kentucky whiskey rather than bourbon because it's made in reused barrels. The bourbon standards, however, were set by the federal government about a half-century ago. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

138 responses to “Jack Daniel's Favors Tennessee Whiskey Law Defining Tennessee Whiskey as Jack Daniel's

  1. Aaaaaghhh! It’s been St. Patrick’s day for hours and I’m still not drunk yet!

      1. “Alright, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Busiest drinking day of the year. Where are my designated drivers?”

        [a few hands go up]

        “Okay, beat it! I got no room for deadbeats.”

  2. “This would be similar to Anheuser-Busch saying, ‘You have to use this recipe to call yourselves an American beer,'””

    Bleh. I wonder if the Anheuser and Busch families had to flee Germany when the Reinheitsgebot was passed?

    1. Reinheitsgebot = overrated. I’m sick to death of hearing about it. The Reinheitsgebot has ensured the ossification and staleness of German brewing. It’s the reason American microbreweries are cleaning everyone’s clock at the moment. The Reinheitsgebot is nothing more than another form of protectionism just like this.

      1. Well the Reinheitsgebot would have prevented the creation of that tasteless swill called lite beer.

        Maybe a definition of beer that is slightly more narrow then “Any liquid I can put into a bottle” isn’t such a bad thing.

        1. Spoken like someone who’s never actually drank in Germany. They make just as much “pure” junk beer there. I can crank out a junky lager that’s “pure” and purity-fetishists will lap that shit up while I count my millions.

          1. I was shocked when I got to Germany and found so many shitty beers.

      2. I’m not sure why you’re talking about the Reinheitsgebot in present tense. It was repealed in 1987.

        1. It’s still talked about and claimed on German beer bottles to this day.

          1. So what? That’s done voluntarily. You talk about it like it’s compulsory.

              1. So in addition to having no taste in music, you have no taste in beer. What am I not surprised?

              2. You guys have to fuck up a perfectly good whiskey thread by talking about beer. There’s more than one way to enjoy alcohol, but the best way is bourbon.

                1. Waffles is correct. Bourbon is like God’s blood. Except it gets you drunk.

            1. So what? That’s done voluntarily. You talk about it like it’s compulsory.

              No, I didn’t. learn to read.

              1. I know present tense when I see it.

    2. Anheuser-Busch makes beer? Huh, thought they specialized in malted cat piss.

      1. gets funnier every time I hear it. /sarc

        1. Oh go chug down some lite beer, while eating a slice of American cheese on some plain old white bread.

          1. oh, look out for the faux-sophisticate over here. You can tell how sophisticated he is because he looks waaaay down his nose at other people. Look kids!

            1. The guy who was just sneering at German beer is calling someone a snob? Haaa ha ha ha ha! That’s funny!

              1. I didn’t sneer at German beer, you illiterate monkey. I think you hate the police so much because they’re white on the right side and you’re white on the left. You guys have the same intellectual abilities.

                1. You think? Haaaa ha ha ha ha ha! Keep the jokes coming!

          2. Bard, will you please regale us with a tale about how much better soccer is than football and how sophisticated Europe is compared to the United States? I want to feel young and like I’m near the College Democrats again.

        2. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, Neocock!

          1. Knock what? I’m knocking the tired notion that Purity Laws are anything but a bunch of sanctified nonsense. They didn’t even let you add yeast, FFS. The original “purity” laws were to protect *bread makers*.

            1. Oh, I was talking about malted cat piss, it actually goes down really smooth and has a surprisingly high alchohol content. Much more preferable than natty ice.

      2. Believe it or not, American light lager is one of the most difficult styles of beer to make. Because there is so little flavor, the slightest imbalance sticks out like a sore thumb. Much more difficult than the average IPA.

        1. Dog crap stout is also tricky. So fucking what?

          1. Yeah but it is *pure* dog crap stout? Brewed exclusively in Sochi from the crap of no less than 7 different stray mutts, all of different breeds? Well??

        2. People never believe this but it’s true. American light lager is actually one of the great triumphs of the American brewing industry.

          1. When I was in Ireland with a group of friends for a week, when we went out to a pub at night, the Irish were mostly drinking…wait for it…Budweiser. It was us American tourists who were drinking Guinness and Smithwick’s all night.

            1. Yep, same here. Went out to pubs in England where you could get imperial pints of the local stuff for four pounds…and the English were drinking Bud Light bottles for 4.50. Total mystery to me.

            2. It was the same when I was in Australia a few years ago. I was ordering things that I could only find there, and Butt-weiser was considered a “fancy import” that carried the fancy prices.

            3. I too see that many times (I’m a server) when Europeans come in to dine, they’ll order mostly Coors and bud light, with the occasional Sam Adams and corona mixed in, no idea why.

      3. Jesus Christ, people.

        Whiskey. This is about whiskey, not beer.

        1. Whisky motherfucker, DO YOU DRINK IT?!

  3. Can’t you just put, “Whiskey Made in Tennessee” rather than “Tennessee Whiskey”?

    1. “Tennessee Style Whisky Product”

      1. I like it. The Spam of Tennessee whiskey.

        1. I like it. The Spam of Tennessee whiskey.

          First ingredient: mechanically separated corn parts.

  4. We just a had 4.4 earthquake centered near Westwood here in SoCal. Nothing like seeing transplants go apeshit on Facebook about how it was their “first earthquake” since moving from wherever the hell they were spawned. Oh well, it’s just St. Paddy’s way of telling all us Irishmen out here to start the drinking now.

    1. We had an earthquake of almost that magnitude here in GA/SC recently, centered in the Aiken area, which others around me felt but I somehow didn’t.

      1. Eh, a 4.1 is cake, you really start feeling them when they get closer to 4.5-5. Because, and you may already know this, magnitude increases in exponential increments. So a 5.0 is ten times stronger than a 4.0, and 100 times stronger than a 3.0, etc.

        1. I do. We get more small earthquakes in this region than most people would expect, and of course the one in Charleston in 1886 is still being studied and debated today.

          1. Ah, intraplate earthquakes, very interesting, and proof that no one is completely safe from Great Mother Gaia’s wrath.

            1. I guess you’ve heard recently that the New Madrid seismic zone is active and could produce large quakes again.

              1. Oh wow, we’d always been told that seismic activity is largely nonexistent in the US east of the San Andreas fault. Guess it’s never too late to stock up on those Vienna sausages, and don’t go running for a doorway should one strike, unless you want to die looking into your hallway.

                1. Besides the New Madrid fault there is potential for some serious activity where the Canadian Shield dips down to the south.

                  I first learned about it when I saw “seismic joints” in the plans for an addition to the Bank of Canada headquarters in Ottawa just a few blocks away from the Parliament and the US Embassy.


                  In 1990, an earthquake of magnitude 5 took place near Mont-Laurier, Quebec.
                  In 1996 and 1997, two earthquakes of magnitude 4.4 and 4.3 occurred near Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec.


                  Earthquake activity in the New York City area

    2. The quake is due to either fracking or climate change.

      1. Oohh, how about climate change brought on by fracking?!

      2. Pfft, pretty sure it’s all the GMOs, duh.

          1. Teh vaccines have me teh ADHD, want some of my extra adderall?

            1. Adderall and tennessee whiskey led to a friend of mine blacking out and getting into a fight with a security guard.

              1. And no one got that on camera?!

          2. Vaccinated frackers who eat GMOs causing climate change related earthquakes?

    3. There are people who move TO CA?

      1. Yup, all the time, they come streaming off the plane like mangy rats carrying the great hipster plague, and of course they’re all progs.

        1. My recommendation:

          Escape from LA CA

          1. But where will I escape to? You head east out of LA and the desert heat and “Famous stars and straps” tattoo laden bros will claim you within days. North is, well, I’m not even gonna get into what festers up north. West is that pointless Pacific Ocean. And south is Mexico, which actually doesn’t sound that bad right about now.

  5. Dildos and whiskey. You really are perfect for this place, ENB.

    1. No kidding. I saw the title of the article, then the writing credit, and had a good long laugh.

      I like libertarian wimminz.

  6. “I don’t think it’s right that we put something in our law that is basically protectionism.”

    Some sort of dilettante, apparently.

  7. I like knowing that something labeled Tennessee whiskey has to meet at least the bourbon standards. Lowering the standards would definitely harm the brand. Fuck Early Times and Diageo (although I am a Diageo stockholder).

  8. Certain standards are reasonable. I would not want some fucking swill made in New Jersey to be able to call itself Tennessee Whiskey (or Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey). But many of the “standards” now in place are just protections for the big guys, keeping the upstart entrepreneurs from competing.

    To say that any whiskey maker in Tennessee cannot call itself Tennessee Whiskey because they reused their charred barrells (instead of trashing them and buying/making new ones) is silly.

    The big brands have to find ways of distinguishing themselves. They can refer to the “original” or “classic” recipe, and see if anyone cares.

    It’s all about the taste, anyway. That and the price, which is going up, and could use some competition from breweries that do not have to buy new barrels after every batch.

    1. To say that any whiskey maker in Tennessee cannot call itself Tennessee Whiskey because they reused their charred barrells (instead of trashing them and buying/making new ones) is silly.

      See — this is why there are no libertarian bourbon drinkers.

      1. Ummm..hi?

        And bourbon distinguishes type of whiskey while tennessee distinguishes location. The restriction is fine for the first, imo, but not the latter.

        1. I can see your point. Bourbon distilled in Kentucky can be and often is labeled “Kentucky Bourbon.” Maybe the solution is for Jack to be labeled “Tennessee Bourbon,” and give up the whole Tennessee Whiskey thing, although B-F wouldn’t like that.

          1. And then there’s the whole Lincoln County process (maple filtration) to account for.

    2. How does a Tennessee law stop a NJ company from calling it’s Booze Tennessee Whiskey?

  9. I don’t care if the meat was slaughtered in Mexico; they can still call it Canadian bacon and as along as it tastes good, I’ll keep buying it.

    1. Why would you throw your money away on that canuck crap when there’s real ‘murkin bacon waiting to be dipped in chocolate and fried?

  10. It’s interesting the Brown-Foreman isn’t moaning about how they ought to be able to label that Early Times swill as bourbon. Good on them.

  11. The beauty of “bourbon” is that, due to the standards, there is no bad “straight bourbon.” There’s just not. Buy the cheapest bottle of Ancient Age, and you know that it’s gonna be a good drink. (There’s better bourbon, but that’s another issue.)
    SLD: The standards should probably be enforced by a trade group, but like gay marriage, I’ll settle for what I can get until the arrival of libertopia.

    1. Who gets to define what a word means for fraud protection purposes?

      1. That said, treating it like kosher is the best solution.

        1. I like the idea of bourbon priests testing purity.

          1. Ooh. Ooh, i volunteer!

            Elijah Craig was a baptist minister.

            1. I think we’re onto something. I now know what job I want in Libertopia.

  12. From being the first state to pass a prohibition law to the current protectionism racket Tennessee has a strange relationship with liquor.

    1. Touring the Jack Daniels distillery is the worst. At the end, you’re given lemonade, because they’re not allowed to let you taste their product. THAT’S a let down.

      1. seriously? That’s a travesty.

        1. That “no tasting” shit would never fly in Kentucky.

          1. It used to be the case at Woodford Reserve. Depends upon wetness of county/city/precinct.

            1. You can taste at Woodford now. I’ve personally tasted my face off there.

              1. I know…hence the “used to”.

                1. Whew. I’m glad of that. I’d hate to think you hadn’t been to Woodford in years. One of my favorite places. I went on a bourbon trip with a couple of friends, who are minor bourbon drinkers. They weren’t impressed until we got to Woodford — it looks like a bourbon distillery should — rolling hills, limestone barrel houses, copper stills. Pretty — and great bourbon at a good price point.

                  1. I get Woodford for free, so, yes, good price point.

                    1. You get Woodford for free? I’m…just…dumbfounded.
                      (I need a bottle of last year’s Derby issue. Those are the only “pretty bottles” I collect, but I somehow missed the last one.)

                    2. I was going to finish my derby bottle this week. Want the empty?

                      See my lunch comment. The liquor fairy is awesome.

                    3. Hang on to it for me, robc. I’ll pick it up when I come to review your brewery.

                    4. For free? Damn you! Who do you sleep with to get that arrangement? Woodford is good stuff.

                    5. Her husband woyld kill me. I get it free without putting out.

                    6. I get Woodford for free

                      do you walk around in a drunken stupor all day? I know I would.

                    7. Its a limited offer. 2-3 bottles a year, plus special occasions and anytime Im at her house…which is many fridays.

        2. Didn’t they used to advertise that it was made in a dry county? Or is that something else?

          1. It still is.

            1. I didn’t even know there still were such things as dry counties.

              1. Google a wet dry map of KY.

              2. We still have dry and damp counties here in Texas, but since the state government passed a law to allow local entities to hold a referendum they’ve been dropped every time it’s come up for a vote. The county that Texas Tech is in dropped dry status recently for example.

                There’s a small sliver of Houston that is dry and there’s no local entity to hold a vote (it was annexed over 100 years ago and the dry status was part of the annexation agreement, now it’s just represented by the Houston government and Harris county so noone to organize a vote). You can still buy booze at restaurants by getting a free membership card.

            2. I think you can now buy Jack in Lynchburg, though. Used to be you couldn’t.

              Haven’t been there in decades, but the tour was interesting.

  13. Also — the difference in tastebetween the cheapest bourbon and the most expensive is about $50 a bottle, tops. So if you’re paying $500 for a bottle of Pappy, you’re paying an awful lot for cachet.

    1. We’ve got some Texas Bourbon down here that runs about $85 a bottle. I don’t see myself ever trying it unless someone gives it to me as a gift.

      Good cheap bourbon: Fighting Cock
      Good medium priced: Makers Mark
      Good small batch: Elijah Craig, Angel’s Envy, Bookers, Knob Creek.

      I’ve really been impressed with Elijah Craig. Bought a bottle on a lark during a sale.

      1. My fave is Four Roses small batch. Even better than 4R single barrel, IMHO.

        1. I need to try Four Roses. It’s on my list.

          1. 4R is also a beautiful distillery.

        2. This is precisely correct.

        3. I have a fifth of Four Roses small batch that I bought a while ago. Two or three times a year I savor a couple of ounces neat or with a splash of water or soda with no ice.

          One of the pleasures of not drinking a lot of spirits is that I can afford the good stuff.

          For Four Roses small batch in the first paragraph you can substitute Crown Royal (Regular or Black label), a single malt Scotch (right now I have Glen Ord twelve year old), New Amsterdam Gin or Alberta Premium Rye.

          That means I have one of the above about once a month.

          1. Incidentally, Alberta Premium is (or used to be) the only 100% Rye whiskey made in Canada. This is spite of the fact that Canadians almost uniformly refer to Canadian whiskey (a blend of several kinds of whiskeys which may contain no rye at all) as “Rye.”

      2. I used to EC 18 yr back when it cost $35 instead of infinity.

        Evan Williams single barrel is the absolute best buy. Generally just a few bucks more that makers and damn good.

      3. I usually go for Even Williams (black label) when I want something cheap, and when someone wants to buy me a shot (the only way I drink liquor in bars these days) I’ll go with Jameson’s or Maker’s. I don’t really bother with anything above that threshold; I didn’t like Knob Creek when I tried it, and I haven’t really tasted anything else that I feel is worth a big premium, for my money.

        Perhaps soon I’ll tell you all about getting kicked out of a free Johnnie Walker tasting event in New York last spring.

        1. EW Black has traditionally been a good deal, but it must be getting more popular. The price at my local store just shot up from $12 to $22/handle. Jim Beam is just a few dollars more, so I get that instead.

          1. I usually only get a half pint, and I think I actually got Jack the last couple of times. I used to keep it in my freezer and take a swig every 3 beers or so, but I haven’t even done that much in a long time.

        2. Bulleit 10 Year Old Bourbon. Neat. Smoooooth.

      4. Garrison Brothers? It is too expensive but it is pretty good too.

        1. It’s worth the premium. Plus, I need bourbon distilleries in-state so I won’t have tariffs when we finally secede.

      5. Maker’s Mark really is great.

      6. Blanton’s is good, and the bottle is outstanding.

      7. The Breckenridge Bourbon is really really good for the price, only about $50.

  14. I will be lunching with a B-F employee.

  15. The last time I drank Jack Daniels, I ended up scraping the frozen puke off the side of the passenger door of my GF’s car.

    1. You’ve got yourself a Jack Daniels memorable moment! Don’t forget to send it to the JD company.

      Seriously, though, this is why I work hard to not get sick/fall down drunk on bourbon or Tennessee whiskey. I don’t want to burn out on them.

      I like vodka, but it just isn’t the same.

  16. $600 for barrels? Get the phone number for Independent Stave. Although I think the big cooperages only sell by the semi-load.

  17. Speaking of Jack, One-eyed Jack’s yearning to go a peeping in a seafood store.

  18. Brown-Forman can go suckle a Dickel.

  19. Dammit, I really want whiskey now.

    1. Not really a fan of JD though

    2. not really a fan of JD though

      1. looks like the squirrels are starting the celebrations early

  20. FWIW, and my memory is fuzzy…

    while I was in college in Tennessee, Al Gore was vice president. The “Tennessee Whiskey” law was something first pushed through during the 1990s NAFTA passage-era, nominally as a response to the protections that “Kentucky Bourbon” had, which had been on the books since the 1950s. Al stumped for the law as a measure to protect the state’s ‘intellectual property, brands, and heritage’ – and there was indeed some legitimate concern over competition from generic manufacturers, or products being produced/sold overseas as imitations of Jack, etc. It is and has always been about trade protectionism, but the threat at the time seemed mostly to be from Kentucky, as Jim was selling more booze than Jack and Tennessee felt bourbons got an unfair labeling protection. One thing leads to another. I would guess that now the *further* restriction (the recent law reads as being only ‘one year old’) is primarily intended to protect Jack from its own in-state small batch competitors, or from behemoths like Diageo weaseling in on their territory.

    In any case, I drink Bulleit and I don’t really give a shit. Cronies gonna crony.

  21. You either misspelled forgo or misused forego.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.