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March 31, 2014

Whiskey debate divides distillers

(Continued)

Bourbon, like other spirits that enjoy federal standards of identity, is held to stricter requirements than mere whiskey. A federal law passed a half century ago requires that only beverages of fermented mash of at least 51 percent corn, not exceeding 160 proof - or 80 percent alcohol by volume - produced in the United States and not for export be allowed to call themselves bourbon.

Similarly, Scotch whisky is produced only in Scotland in compliance with the laws of the United Kingdom. Cognac may only come from its eponymous region of France. Codifying similar rules for Tennessee whiskey, they say, will protect the industry from low-quality producers who want to create their own product on the cheap ("Whisky" is typically used for products made in Canada, Scotland, England and Wales; "whiskey" is the spelling more typically used in Ireland and the United States).

But others who want the standards imposed by the Tennessee legislature rolled back see another motive behind the 2013 law: The process codified in state law sounds remarkably like the recipe used by Brown-Forman.

"This is all about my rights. And when you take away any of my rights, I'm going to fight you tooth and nail on it," said Phil Pritchard, owner of Pritchard's Distillery in Kelso, Tenn. "Last year, a lot of those rights got taken away from me through a process that was abetted by an employee of Jack Daniel's for the benefit of Jack Daniel's."

Jeff Arnett, Jack Daniel's master distiller, has been lobbying members of the legislature to keep the 2013 law in place.

The 2013 law grandfathered in Pritchard's distillery, which uses new barrels but does not charcoal-filter its product. But the nearly 20 other distilleries in Tennessee, the first of which only began receiving licenses in 2009, cannot legally call their product Tennessee whiskey without both new barrels and charcoal filtering.

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