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Independent Distillers Join Diageo in Whiskey Feud

“Two US drinks producers have joined Diageo in criticising the official definition of Tennessee whiskey, claiming it is “bad for Tennessee’s economy” and “violates the US Constitution”.


A row between UK drinks giant Diageo and US group Brown-Forman, owner of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, over changes to the official definition of the spirit has been brewing over recent months.


In March this year, Brown-Forman heavily criticised proposals by Diageo, owner of the George Dickel Tennessee whiskey brand, to allow the reuse of barrels in Tennessee whiskey creation. The British group argued this would deliver significant cost savings for both large scale and craft producers.


Under current legislation implemented last year and supported by Jack Daniel’s, Tennessee whiskey must be made from fermented mash of at least 51% corn, charcoal mellowed, and aged in new oak barrels within the Tennessee state.


Brown-Forman has lashed out at the proposed changes, claiming this could damage the standards of Tennessee whiskey.


Michael Ballard, proprietor of Full Throttle S’loonshine, and Jesse James Dupree, CEO of American Outlaw Spirits, last week offered testimony to the Tennessee State Legislature, which is reviewing Diageo’s proposed amendments.


The businessmen argued that that state’s “formal adoption of the Jack Daniels distillation and production process as the definition of Tennessee whiskey” violates protections under the United States Constitution.


They also said the definition “unnecessarily puts the state legislature in the position of regulating both the taste and recipe of spirits marketed as Tennessee whiskey”.


Both claim that the law “exacerbates the uneven playing field” between large and independent distillers” at a time when a current barrel shortage “gravely impacts smaller distilleries that do not own internal cooperages”.


Ballard and Dupree are planning to open a whiskey distillery in Trimble, Tennessee, but will not break ground until the state delivers its final verdict on whether to repeal the current Tennessee whiskey definition.


“Whiskey is a word that cannot be trademarked. Tennessee is a geographical location, which is exactly the reason why the federal government denied Jack Daniels ownership of that trademark,” Ballard told Tennessee’s Local Government Committee.


Both men claimed the decision on whether to repeal or retain the law is “beyond the jurisdiction” of the Tennessee legislature and that it is a “federal issue”.


Last week, Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett reiterated his urge for Tennessee lawmakers to stick to current legislation, claiming that “there needs to be some laws in the playground”.


A final decision on the definition is expected to be delivered in January.

Source: The Spirits Business