Fox News reports that there is a new whiskey rebellion a-brewing in Tennessee, and Jack Daniels may be right in the middle of it.
Whiskey connoisseurs are very specific about what constitutes various types of spirits. The states of Kentucky and Tennessee have specific laws on the books that go into great detail about what the "recipe" is for a "Kentucky bourbon" or a "Tennessee whiskey". And it is these specifications that are at the heart of the fight in Tennessee.
In order to bear the label "Tennessee whiskey" Tennessee law says that a product must be "fermented in Tennessee 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."
Not coincidentally, that is exactly the formulation for Jack Daniels. But the folks at competitor George Dickel, just 15 miles up the road from Daniels' Lynchburg distillery, want to be able to claim the title of "Tennessee whiskey" as well. So they have proposed a change in that law.
The change appears to come down to being able to reuse those charred oak barrels. Jack Daniels, which is actually owned by Kentucky firm Brown-Forman, says that their competition introduced the bill via Republican Tennessee state Representative Bill Sanderson. Their competition at Dickel is actually owned by Diageo PLC, a British conglomerate.
The fact that a Kentucky firm and a British conglomerate are duking it out over who gets to be called "Tennessee whiskey" is apparently not a problem to the folks in Tennessee.
Oddly, Diageo says they too use new oak barrels.
"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.
Other whiskey makers in Tennessee say that, if they were required to use new barrels every time, their whiskey would lose its own characteristics and end up tasting like Jack Daniels. It is the barrel, particularly the charring, that gives whiskey its flavor.
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