Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Tennessee Craft Distiller Speaks Out For High Standards


Diageo claims it is attacking the Tennessee whiskey standards law on behalf of 'the little guys,' Tennessee's emerging craft distilling community. Unfortunately for Diageo, the craft distillers aren't cooperating. Last week, the board of the Tennessee Distillers Guild, a group of 11 small distilleries, voted to support the current regulations.

Charlie and Andy Nelson, scions of a historic Tennessee distillery, Nelson's Greenbrier, also favor the high standards of the current rules. The Nelsons have been selling a sourced whiskey, called Belle Meade, while building their own distillery, which is being installed now. Their statement follows.
_________

We are the Nelson Brothers, and here's our position on Tennessee Whiskey: Tennessee Whiskey must be made from a fermented mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new, charred oak barrels, charcoal mellowed, and stored in Tennessee. Otherwise, it's just not Tennessee Whiskey.

For well over a century, Tennessee Whiskey has been produced with these traditional methods that have become increasingly respected and revered as an industry standard. Last year, that standard was codified and signed into law at the Tennessee State House, protecting one of the state's most valuable signature products.

As descendants of Charles Nelson, arguably the biggest name in the formative decades of Tennessee's commercial distilling industry, we hold a strong conviction that the standards governing the production of Tennessee Whiskey must be maintained. To relax even one of the defining regulations that make it a distinct product weakens the brand, and dilutes its value, changing a respected philosophy.

Our great-great-great grandfather understood this passionately and professionally. He produced other spirits using other methods under other labels, just as we are all still welcome to do. But in the late 1880s, he went to the State House to seek an official distinction for the product known as Tennessee Whiskey. Ironically, he was accompanied in his efforts by George Dickel, founder of the distillery now owned by Diageo, the international corporation now attempting to undo all these lengthy years of brand history and quality control. Both men, though competitors, understood the value of keeping the process pure in Tennessee, to them as businessmen, and presumably, to the economy of the state.

Generations later, we Nelsons no longer dominate the market -- not by a long shot! -- but we vehemently reject the notion that allowing Tennessee Whiskey to be produced in barrels that are not new will help craft distillers and the so-called "little guys." We are the little guys. We are craft distillers. It is in our best interests to produce and compete within our long-established guidelines. There still remains room for extraordinary creativity within these guidelines. We resent and oppose this attempt by an international corporation based far away from Tennessee to discredit and degrade the process of our state's beloved product and valued brand.

12 comments:

colbyj said...

Well stated Charlie! As a consumer and as someone who sells whiskey, I want to know what I am getting when the label says Tennessee Whiskey.

sku said...

So let me get this straight. These guys sell a sourced bourbon that's probably distilled by one of the big distilleries in in Kentucky or Indiana that they label as "small batch" and "hand crafted" with lots of family lore on the label, but they have very strong feelings about how people who actually distill in Tennessee should be making their whiskey and want to keep the process "pure in Tennessee"? Got it.

colbyj said...

The Nelsons are up front about their bourbon source. And yes, there is family lore on the back label. They are selling a tasty, high rye bourbon. I like their honesty, and their bourbon.

Anonymous said...

It gets better, Sku. Gus Griffin (a former Brown Foreman employee: SVP and Global Managing Director of Jack Daniel's) was the Nelson's consultant for building the Nelson's Green Brier brand?

"Supported founders in all aspects of brand development and go to market strategy.
Refined company and brand stories. Advised extensively on Belle Meade Bourbon development and launch, distributor selection and management, forecasting and strategic planning."

http://www.linkedin.com/in/gusgriffin

Chuck Cowdery said...

Why is any of that a problem? Since the Nelson's are still building their distillery (It's real. I saw the equipment.) I suppose 'micro-producer' is more accurate than 'micro-distiller' but the heritage is real and they're getting professional advice on how to run their business. Most of all, they have never misrepresented any of it. So what's the problem?

Whiskey Avenger said...

I appreciate that they are for the stricter Tennessee whiskey law. However, it's a problem because they have an 8 year old Bourbon and they are a one year old company. They are buying LDI and giving it a local sounding name to deliberately fool people. Ask the average Tennessean if they want to drink Indiana bourbon. They do not. And they do not like being lied to, or let's be nice, and say they were just deliberately confusing them. Just another fake phony, that hurts honest microdistillers. Your great-great-grandfather would be horrified. At least you could have bought some Dickel barrels that are made in TN. Or actually make something. I love all these people who have never distilled anything getting up and speaking on behalf of microdistillers.

Gary Gillman said...

I think B-F is correct on this. Industry practice for 60 years or so has given a meaning to the term Tennessee whiskey. George and Jack chose to use the new charred barrel and it helped make the name of Tennessee whiskey what it is. I would think, as well, the product should actually be distilled and aged (as appropriate to the style) in Tennessee, but I don't know if the law sought to be amended requires that.

Gary

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Diageo apologists are out and about. I expected more from sku. Sad.

sku said...

You got me Anon! I'm such a big Diageo apologist that I named them one of the worst whiskey companies of 2013.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, hence my confusion. What's with defending them now, on this? You, of all people, know how manipulative and mendacious they are.

sku said...

I'm not defending Diageo, I was poking fun at Nelson's Greenbriar. When Brown Forman goes to war with Diageo, I say a pox on both your houses. Diageo are jerks who make good whiskey. Brown Forman maybe a more decent company, but they make crappy whiskey. That being said, I think Diageo's amendments are unnecessary and they should leave the definition alone. I'm just not as fired up about it as BF and Chuck are.

Gary Gillman said...

B-F makes crappy whiskey? I don't agree. Forester Signature (100 proof) is one of the best values out there. The Birthday Bourbon series is always well received. Jack Daniel Single Barrel is top-rate and regular Jack is pretty decent.

Gary