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.