Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tennessee Whiskey Is Safe for Another Year, Perhaps for Good

The AP is reporting that legislators opposed to the 2013 law defining Tennessee whiskey withdrew their repeal measure yesterday, "to try to generate more support before next year's legislative session." That's exactly what they said when it failed last year. Supporters of the current law, led by Jack Daniel's, have declared the effort dead.

If you want more details on the whole debate, go here.

Much of the media has portrayed this as Jack Daniel's law, but last fall the Tennessee Distillers Guild (TDG) polled its members and 17 of 20 voted in support of the current law.

Although the vote was secret, it is well-known who the three dissenters were. The effort to repeal the law was initiated by international drinks giant Diageo, which is a TDG member because it owns George Dickel. The other two members opposed to the current law are Phil Prichard, who makes a non-compliant 'Tennessee whiskey' that was grandfathered in by the law now in effect; and Popcorn Sutton, which wants to make an unaged 'moonshine' called Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey.

The repeal effort was also very vocally supported by two reality television stars, Michael Ballard and Jesse James Dupree. Ballard owns the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, South Dakota. His partner is Jackyl lead singer Dupree. Ballard and Dupree claim they intend to build a multi-million dollar distillery in Trimble, Tennessee (Pop. 628), but only if the law is changed so they can make whatever they want and call it Tennessee whiskey.

Dupree is also the entrepreneur behind Jesse James American Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey, which is made by an undisclosed Kentucky producer.

Ballard and Dupree made many statements and claims about the Tennessee whiskey issue.

Not one of them was true.

It got pretty silly for a while there, as all sorts of people jumped into the spotlight. Very late in the game, the conservative lobbying group Americans For Prosperity, an organization backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, threw some of its money behind repeal. Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, a Fox News legal analyst, opined that the current law is unconstitutional.

But in the end, sanity ruled.


Anonymous said...


Earl J. said...

Unconstitutional? There are Federal standards for what you can legally sell as "mayonnaise." What's unconstitutional about a State defining what can be sold as "Tennessee whiskey?"

Erik Fish said...

I'm not much for conspiracy theories, but so much of the argument for repeal was couched in rather painfully forced anti-corporate Robin Hood vocabulary "in defense of small craft distillers against the big bad JD conglomerate", pretty ironic since if anyone deserves the term conglomerate, it's Diageo, not the still largely family-held Brown-Foreman. Considering that Diageo is producing its Dickel according to the law, and diluting the Tennessee standard would have hurt its own label, it is tempting to conclude that somehow slowing down JD seemed worth a bit of a sacrifice to them.
And having the super-patriotic Koch brothers take the side of the Brits against an American family business? What's the world coming to?