Jack Daniel’s is fighting proposed changes supported by drinks giant Diageo to relax the rules on the production of Tennessee whiskey which it says would undermine its brand.
Last year Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman successfully led a campaign to have Tennessee whiskey recognised as a designation in the US defining the required production methods in order to label a bottle as Tennessee Whiskey.
The campaign resulted in Tennessee General Assembly declaring that Tennessee whiskey can only be called such if it is made from fermented mash of at least 51% corn, charcoal mellowed, and aged in new oak barrels within the State – the exact recipe for Jack Daniel’s.
Now, state lawmakers are considering relaxing the rules on the production of Tennessee whiskey to make it easier for craft distilleries to market their spirits as Tennessee whiskey – a popular draw in the American liquor business – and allow for the reusing of barrels in its production.
Diageo, which owns the George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey brand 15 miles from the Jack Daniel’s distillery, is backing the proposed changes to allow producers to reuse barrels which it says would offer significant cost savings.
Bill Sanderson, republican state representative who introduced the bill, said the changes wouldn’t do away with last year’s law, but would allow Tennessee whiskey makers to reuse barrels, which can cost $600 each, and admitted he introduced the measure at Diageo’s urging.
He told foxnews.com: “There are a lot of ways to make high-quality whiskey, even if it’s not necessarily the way Jack Daniel’s does it. What gives them the right to call theirs Tennessee whiskey, and not others?”
As Jack Daniel’s manufactures its own American oak barrels, Sanderson argued the company already has a competitive advantage and were “picking on the little guys”.
However Jeff Arnett, master distiller at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, said the changes were an attack on the Jack Daniel’s brand and that the current rules protects Tennessee whiskey as a quality product.
He said: “It’s really more to weaken a title on a label that we’ve worked very hard for.”
“As a state, I don’t think Tennessee should be bashful about being protective of Tennessee whiskey over say bourbon or scotch or any of the other products that we compete with.”
Billy Kaufman, the president Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury, Tenn, told foxnews.com: “If I made whiskey in Tennessee in a used barrel, what it would be called then?” he said. “Whiskey, made in Tennessee?”
Diageo executive vice-president Guy L Smith IV said: “This isn’t about Diageo, as all of our Tennessee whiskey is made with new oak.”
“This is about Brown-Forman trying to stifle competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers.
“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.”
State House and Senate committees are due to discuss the issue today, ahead of possible votes in the full chambers.