And things are about to get serious.
The makers of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Brown-Forman Corp., urged state lawmakers in 2013 to pass legislation ruling that anything labeled “Tennessee Whiskey” must come from Tennessee and must be made from 51 percent corn, filtered through maple charcoal and aged in charred oak barrels, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Brown-Forman Corp., which is based in Kentucky, was likely keen to see this legislation passed because this happens to be how Jack Daniel’s whiskey is made.
But Diageo, the U.K.-based company that owns George Dickel, wants to see the rules regarding what can be considered a Tennessee whiskey relaxed so they and other distillers aren’t forced to copy Jack Daniel’s.
Area distillers say they’d like to experiment with new methods and barrels techniques, arguing that they want more freedom to quench America’s thirst for whiskey.
Lawmakers in Nashville, Tenn., said they’re prepared to debate the issue in the state’s House and Senate committees.
"I think we should wipe off the books what we did last year,'' said Rep. Ryan Haynes, chairman of the state government committee, adding that Tennessee distillers should be allowed to call it Tennessee whiskey regardless of how it’s made.
Brown-Forman is not pleased with the recent developments, going so far as to characterize it as an “attack” on Tennessee whiskey. The company even accused Diageo of advocating new standards that would “dramatically diminish the quality and integrity” of Tennessee whiskey, making it inferior to bourbon.
As of this writing, there is no federal regulation governing the use of the term “Tennessee whiskey,” the Journal notes.
For its part, Diageo reminds drinkers that its whiskey is in compliance with the regulations passed last year. Still, the company said, the new rules are stifling innovation.
"We're in favor of flexibility that lets all distillers, large and small, make Tennessee whiskey the way their family recipes tell them,'' said Diageo spokeswoman Alix Dunn.
But a Brown-Forman spokesman is standing by the company’s opposition to relaxing the rules: "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.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter