When is a neutral spirit not a neutral spirit? When it's a Jack Daniel's product, apparently.
The young saga of new Jack Daniel's Unaged Rye has already gotten curiouser and curiouser. The story begins with Friday's post about two new 'white whiskey' products from Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's.
Looking at the photograph of the Jack Daniel's package provided by the distillery, inquiring minds wanted to know how a product distilled at 140° proof (70% ABV), as they described the product, could be labeled 'neutral spirit,' considering that the regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) clearly state that neutral spirit is a distilled spirit distilled at more than 190° proof (95% ABV). (The exact wording is reproduced below.)
Well, that apparently is not what 'neutral spirit' means if you're Jack Daniel's. Below is the explanation from Jack Daniel's PR agency. I'm flabbergasted, but there it is.
Good afternoon. Thank you for your inquiry. Per the portion of the Code of Federal Regulations describing neutral spirits (vodka) and whiskey copied and provided below, vodka has to be distilled at or above 190 proof and “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color. Whiskeys must be distilled at less than 190 proof and “possess the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky, stored in oak containers (except that corn whisky need not be stored), and bottled at not less than 80 proof.”
The net of this is that our unaged rye did not satisfy the “Class 2; Whiskey” requirement of being stored in an oak container, therefore the TTB ruled that it should be labeled as a “neutral spirit” even though it was distilled at 140 proof and obviously violates the stated vodka requirement of being “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” By this ruling, it is assumed that the TTB considers all whiskies (except corn whisky) to be neutral spirits until they enter the barrel for maturation. Jack Daniel’s packaging and legal departments argued that the Tennessee Unaged Rye should be labeled as an “unaged whiskey” which we felt more accurately described the nature of the product to the consumer, but the TTB ruled against this proposal and would only approve the label under the category “neutral spirit”.
Jack Daniel’s understands this category classification can certainly be a point of confusion. The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Unaged Rye is a fermented mash of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley that was distilled at 140 proof and charcoal mellowed, but it was never entered into an oak barrel.
Again, thank you for your inquiry. Please let me know if you have more concerns or questions.
Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
PART 5—LABELING AND ADVERTISING OF DISTILLED SPIRITS
Subpart C—Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits
§ 5.22 The standards of identity.
Standards of identity for the several classes and types of distilled spirits set forth in this section shall be as follows (see also §5.35, class and type):
(a) Class 1; neutral spirits or alcohol. “Neutral spirits” or “alcohol” are distilled spirits produced from any material at or above 190° proof, and, if bottled, bottled at not less than 80° proof.
(1) “Vodka” is neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.
(2) “Grain spirits” are neutral spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain and stored in oak containers.
(b) Class 2; whisky. “Whisky” is an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky, stored in oak containers (except that corn whisky need not be so stored), and bottled at not less than 80° proof, and also includes mixtures of such distillates for which no specific standards of identity are prescribed.
Jack Daniel’s Media Relations
As I replied to Mr. Hoskins, the definition of ‘neutral spirits,’ as a class designation, is
distinguishable from the definition of vodka, which appears below it as a
type designation within the class of neutral spirits, much as ‘rye
whiskey’ appears as a type designation within the class of whiskey. The
definition of ‘neutral spirits’ as a class, while it does not include
the "without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color" requirement
for vodka, does clearly state that the spirit must be distilled above
190° of proof. The ruling as described would seem to undermine
the definition of neutral spirits for more purposes than just the
labeling of this one Jack Daniel’s product.
In case you haven't detected this yet, I consider this outrageous.
I have made my own inquiries to TTB. Stay tuned.