Friday, March 27, 2015
Tennessee Whiskey, Again
The Great Tennessee Whiskey Debate, about to resume in the Tennessee legislature, has involved a lot of misdirection and misinformation, some deliberate, some just ignorant. Without going through every jot and tittle, here is the gist of it.
'Louisiana whiskey' merely means whiskey made in Louisiana because there is no expectation that it means more than that. Likewise 'Ohio whiskey,' or whiskey made in any other state, except Kentucky and Tennessee. Certainly there is pride of place in every case, but no one has ever identified 'Louisiana whiskey' as a whiskey style. It is simply a statement of geographic origin.
There are those who say, "right, and that's all 'Tennessee whiskey' should be, a statement of geographic origin."
But if you are given a ten, why would you want to trade down to a two? That's the essence of the argument. Imagine, if you will, the Wisconsin legislature passing a law that says, "truthfully, cheese made in Wisconsin is no different or better than cheese made in any other state and we apologize for suggesting otherwise."
Most people understand Tennessee whiskey to mean a bourbon-style whiskey filtered through maple charcoal. Even if they don't know those details, everyone who drinks whiskey knows that Tennessee whiskey means Jack Daniel's, George Dickel, or something similar and not just any whiskey made in Tennessee. That represents an extraordinary benefit for distillers in Tennessee, an advantage no other state gives them. It makes Tennessee more attractive than any other state as a location for distillers.
Even the distillers who oppose the current law understand what it means, they just want the benefit without doing the work. They are misguided, however, because consumers aren't that stupid. If you render the designation 'Tennessee whiskey' meaningless, consumers will figure that out pretty quickly.
And if you sell them a 'Tennessee whiskey' that tastes like used dishwater, they won't buy a second bottle.
The current law defining Tennessee whiskey is very good for Tennessee as a whole and for whiskey-makers in Tennessee. There are some who argue that it's such an unfair advantage, the U.S. Supreme Court should find it unconstitutional. Only an idiot would want to throw that away.