Fighting Words! Jeff Arnett Of Jack Daniels Squares Off With Diageo’s Point Man Bill Sanderson

Jack Daniels corporate master Brown Forman resides in Louisville, Kentucky but that hasn’t stopped them from defending the art of Tennessee whiskey. They’re squaring off against Diageo, the Great Britain-based conglomerate that owns George Dickel, and is currently attempting to dumb down Tennessee’s whiskey laws.

Right now if you’re going to call yourself Tennessee Whiskey the following has to be observed: the liquor must be fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.

Those are the rules.

Diageo, through their political operative, Republican state Rep. Bill Sanderson have introduced a bill that changes the law significantly.

The bill, if it passes, would allow the use of used, charred oak barrels during production, a move that would cut the cost of bringing the whiskey to market considerably.

Brown Foreman (Southern Comfort, Woodford Reserve, Early Times, Old Forrester, Canadian Mist) vs Diageo  (George Dickel, Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Smirnoff and Tanqueray)

It’s going to be a great battle, and as always, it begins with words; the best, funniest salvo so far has come from Diageo executive vice president Guy L. Smith IV. “This is about Brown-Forman trying to stifle competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of micro distillers.”

Oddly, in spite of Forman’s (est.1870) considerable heft, this is a David vs Goliath battle as Diageo (est.1997) is a substantially larger company.

Power rankings: 1) Diageo 2) Pernod 3)Suntory 4) Brown-Forman

Smith lumping Diageo in with “micro-distillers” is mildly amusing. Of course, genuine micro distillers have a different take on the matter entirely. Charles Nelson of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville had this to say: “If we lower the standards, it could lead to more products and brands that could lower the reputation of Tennessee whiskey.”

Jack Daniel’s macro-distiller Jeff Arnett offers this “As a state, I don’t think Tennessee should be bashful about being protective of Tennessee whiskey over…bourbon or scotch or any of the other products that we compete with.”

Truth be told, I prefer George Dickel to Jack Daniels which I’ve always found to be a bit on the raw side, flavor-wise. But I love to see a good dust-up in the liquor industry and this one’s shaping up to be a fun one.

At the end of the day I’ve yet to sample a Tennessee whiskey that can measure up to a Kentucky bourbon but that’s just a matter of what you’re raised on. I grew up drinking Four Roses, and hated to see them get bought out but their liquor is still produced in the great state of Kentucky and to me that’s a defining characteristic of great bourbon.

They may be making fine bourbon all over the world nowadays but to me if it’s not made in Kentucky I don’t want to have any truck with it.




About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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