Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jack Daniels faces Tennessee "Whiskey Rebellion"

I found this story through the Yahoo Food Section, with the source story from the Wall Street Journal.  Starting with the Yahoo Food Story:
There’s a whiskey brawl going on! Not the typical post-drink brawl, but a brouhaha that was born before the whiskey even made it to the people. Let us elucidate the details.
Jack Daniel’s Whiskey: Whiskey made (1) in Tennessee (2) from at least 51% corn, (3) filtered through maple charcoal and (4) aged in new, charred oak barrels.
Tennessee Whiskey: Whiskey made (1) in Tennessee (2) from at least 51% corn, (3) filtered through maple charcoal and (4) aged in new, charred oak barrels.
See the similarity there? That’s because Jack Daniel’s—or rather, Brown-Forman Corp., the company that owns Jack Daniel’s—urged Tennessee lawmakers to require anything labeled “Tennessee Whiskey” to fit that bill. (The bill that Jack Daniel’s fits.) This is important because that “Tennessee Whiskey” label sells bottles—it’s part of why the American liquor business is booming—and without, it, the Other Guys have less of a chance in the marketplace.
Tennessee Whiskey, According to the Other Guys: Whiskey made (1) in Tennessee (2) from at least 51% corn, (3) filtered through something (maybe?) and (4) aged in some kind of barrel. This is what both small Tennessee distilleries and Diageo, the company that owns top-selling George Dickel “Tennessee whiskey,” want—looser terms—so that they can experiment with grains and woods and use family recipes, if they have them.
"If you don’t want to use new barrels or charcoal filtering, you can’t call it ‘Tennessee Whiskey.’ You can call it ‘whiskey from Tennessee’ or ‘whiskey made in Tennessee’ or any other combination,” Phil Lynch, a Brown-Forman spokesman, told Yahoo Finance.
You just have to love this ridiculous fight going on here.  Jack Daniels used the Tennessee state government to pass legislation requiring any whiskey labeled "Tennessee Whiskey" to be produced according to Jack Daniels' requirements.  Jack Daniels wants to use the term "Tennessee Whiskey" for themselves as a marketing term, and shut the rest of the distillers out.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Jack Daniels sells about 90 percent of Tennessee's whiskey, with Diageo PLC's George Dickel's Tennessee Whiskey in a distant second place.  There are also some small craft distillers in Tennessee that want to experiment in creating specialty whiskies, and are complaining about the stringent requirements and short supply of new wood barrels.  Ironically, Jack Daniels makes its own, oak barrels.  Legislators in Nashville are planning to debate the possible rule changes and amendments to roll back some of these requirements.

In one sense, I can see what Jack Daniels is doing for "Tennessee Whiskey," in imposing regulations for the term is similar to such regulations for terms of  "Scotch," and "Champagne."  Unfortunately, I would say that they've gone a little too far in imposing their production requirements for the term.  Jack Daniels covets the therm "Tennessee Whiskey," as it is prominently displayed in their label.  Now that competitor distilleries are coming into Tennessee to produce their own whiskeys, Jack Daniels is fighting to maintain their own monopolistic market share.  And one way is to keep the "Tennessee Whiskey" term for themselves. 

It is rather ironic, because Jack Daniels is okay--but it is not the best tasting whiskey out there.  To me, it is good as a mixing drink, but I would prefer the more subtle tastes of micro-brewed whiskies or bourbons.  To me, Makers Mark is a better tasting whiskey than Jack Daniels--and Maker's Mark is supposedly an inferior bourbon.  According to the WS Journal:
Brown-Forman—which is based in Kentucky (And maker of Jack Daniels)—is casting the debate in near-apocalyptic terms, saying in a news release Friday that Tennessee Whiskey was "under attack."
It accused Diageo of trying to undermine the designation by watering down regulations that would "dramatically diminish the quality and integrity'' of Tennessee Whiskey and make it inferior to bourbon.
Bourbon, the most famous type of American whiskey, is made with a recipe similar to Jack Daniel's. Under longstanding federal regulations, any whiskey labeled "bourbon'' must be distilled in the U.S. using at least 51% corn and aged in new oak barrels that have been charred. Unlike Tennessee Whiskey, bourbon doesn't require maple charcoal filtering. It can also be made in any state, although more than 90% of bourbon is produced in Kentucky.
There is no federal regulation governing the term "Tennessee Whiskey.''
Part of what makes bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey unique is the substitution of barley and other grains with corn, typically making them sweeter than other whiskies such as Scotch. Brown-Forman says new barrels are another important difference, delivering unique flavor and turning the spirit orange-brown without caramel coloring. Charcoal filtering produces a smoother sip, it says.
To me, the best-tasting whiskey would have to be a single malt Scotch.  And there are a wide variety of single malt scotches out there, with so many different flavors, aromas, and subtleties.  Unfortunately, single malt scotches have gone up in price.  So I've switched over to the next best thing in bourbon.  Go into a BevMo store, you'll find a number of interesting bourbons--each with their own subtleties in their distillation and production process.  Half the fun is trying out different bottles of scotches and bourbons and comparing them to each other.  Apparently Jack Daniels is saying that watering down the regulations would '"dramatically diminish the quality and integrity'' of Tennessee Whiskey and make it inferior to bourbon.'  I've tasted unique bourbons in Makers Mark, Knob Creek, Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve (Which is OWNED by Brown-Forman), Rock Hill Farms, and a few others that have a better taste and complexity than Jack Daniels.  There are plenty of whiskies and bourbons that are superior to Jack Daniels.

The term "Tennessee Whiskey" is not under a "near-apocalyptic" attack.  Jack Daniels use of the term "Tennessee Whiskey" is. 

No comments: