"Every day we make it, we'll make it the best we can."
Those were our founder's words, and every day for nearly 150 years at the Jack Daniel Distillery, we've worked to uphold the quality and integrity of our Tennessee whiskey. We make it the best we can.
Using quality grains, cave spring water, charcoal mellowing and maturing our whiskey in new, charred oak barrels, Jack Daniel's has become the No. 1-selling whiskey in the world. When folks in more than 160 countries see the label "Tennessee whiskey," they know it stands for something. It stands for quality. It stands for a premium product. And it represents a world-class standard that goes with charcoal mellowing our whiskey and maturing it in new barrels. There are other ways to make whiskey, but only one way to make Tennessee whiskey.
The bourbon and whiskey category is booming, and Tennessee can take pride that we have the leader of American whiskey recognized worldwide. Exports of Tennessee whiskey and bourbon eclipsed $1 billion for the first time in 2013, and Jack Daniel's is one of the state's top 10 exports.
But due to the efforts of a London-based liquor conglomerate, our Tennessee whiskey is under attack in the General Assembly.
Pending legislation would undermine the "Tennessee whiskey" designation law passed last year. The law says that if a manufacturer wants to label its product "Tennessee whiskey," it has to follow the standard definition and quality process — charcoal mellowed, aged in new barrels and stored in Tennessee. This designation protects a process and name that we've spent nearly a century and a half investing in.
Our Tennessee whiskey designation is no different than similar laws protecting the integrity of other spirits including bourbon, scotch, tequila and even Champagne. These designations speak to where and how the products are made. Each of those products has a geographic and process distinction that defines it.
The London company wants to weaken and undermine Tennessee whiskey by saying manufacturers can use old barrels and still call their product "Tennessee whiskey," even though it would be inferior to bourbon. And, unfortunately, they're hiding behind the microdistilleries by saying that Jack Daniel's is not letting them make their product how they want.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We could not be more supportive of the entrepreneurial spirit of Tennessee craft distillers — Jack Daniel was one of the first — and praised the law allowing for their statewide increase. We applaud them.
And no one is saying these distillers can't make their product the way they want. They can call it "made in Tennessee," or "whiskey from Tennessee," or whatever they would like. But if their product is made from used barrels or non-charcoal mellowed, it shouldn't be labeled "Tennessee whiskey." Because it isn't.
Jack Daniel's has spent millions of dollars investing in Tennessee, including a recent $100 million expansion, providing good-paying jobs to hundreds of Tennesseans.
We hope our legislators will stand with us in making sure that a foreign conglomerate doesn't cheapen what it means to be a Tennessee whiskey so they can turn around and say their scotch is made to a higher standard. Say "no" to London, England, and "yes" to Lynchburg, Tenn.
Jeff Arnett is Jack Daniel's master distiller in Lynchburg.