How far can one go with name protection? When I visited the Champagne region of France, it was an extremely touchy subject. Only sparkling wine made within the borders of the province can be called champagne, they argued. Also, it is European Union law. I see the point: The Champagne region has a very specific terroir, allowing for a distinct product that simply cannot be likened to Korbel’s or Cook’s. When someone tells me she hates champagne because it gives her a headache, I tell her she’s probably lumping the $8 bottle of cheap California bubbly with the real deal. I’ve gone through multiple bottles of Bollinger Rosé (with help from a few friends) and I did not have a headache the next morning. That said, the argument that a perfume cannot be called Champagne or a color cannot be called Champagne is a bit much.
So what about Tennesee Whiskey? Brown-Forman, makers of Jack Daniel’s, argues that this label can only be ascribed to whiskey made a very specific way: at least 51 percent corn, new charred oak barrels, filtered via maple charcoal. That, too, is a state law. And not by coincidence it is how Jack Daniel’s itself is distilled. Diageo, which makes George Dickel, argues that the definition needs to be broadened. And craft distillers in Tennessee also chafe at the strict label (making them and the Diageo empire unlikely bedfellows).
“Diageo says the George Dickel brand is in compliance with the new law, and that it has no plans to change the way it is made,” reports Mike Esterl in the Wall Street Journal. “But the liquor giant says last year’s law puts a lid on innovation and that Brown-Forman shouldn’t be allowed to define the only path to high-quality Tennessee Whiskey.”
On the other hand,
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.
“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,” said Phil Lynch, a Brown-Forman spokesman.
Something tells me the craft distillers and Diageo will not be embracing “whiskey made in Tennessee” any time soon.