Tennessee whiskey law change postponed27th March, 2014 by Lauren Eads
A controversial proposal to relax the legal definition of Tennessee whiskey and allow for the reusing of barrels in its production has been postponed to allow for further debate within the industry.
The Tennessee state legislative voted on Tuesday, 25 March, to send a bill governing the production methods of Tennessee whiskey to a study committee this summer, rather than push through proposed changes supported by Diageo and Bill Sanderson, republican state representative.
Calls have been made for the methods governing the production of Tennessee whiskey to be relaxed allowing for the reuse of barrels, which can cost up to $600, to give craft distillers more opportunity to label their product as Tennessee whiskey.
The proposals come one year after Jack Daniel’s successfully campaigned to have the Tennessee General Assembly declare that Tennessee whiskey could only be labelled 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.
Speaking to The Tennessean, Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett, who has said the changes would undermine its brand, welcomed the postponement.
He said: “We stand behind last year’s law, we truly believe it’s best for Tennessee whiskey all over the world.
“And for the players who’ve located in the state of Tennessee, we need to uphold these quality standards.”
Diageo, which owns the George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey brand 15 miles from the Jack Daniel’s distillery, also welcomed the decision to send the matter to a committee for “proper industry input”.
A spokesperson said: “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.”
Previously Diageo executive vice-president Guy L Smith IV said the current laws restricting the reuse of barrels only served to “stifle competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers”.
The postponement means that Tennessee whisky distillers will be subject to the current laws on its production for at least another year before the matter is once again brought before state lawmakers.