Tag Archives: whiskey

Jack Daniel’s wins Tennessee Whiskey lobbying war (again — for now)

(Charlie Daniel cartoon)

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jack Daniel’s has turned back the latest challenge to a state law that determines which spirits can be marketed as “Tennessee Whiskey,” but upstart distillers hoping their brands make the cut vow the fight isn’t over for good.

Opponents of the law enacted at the behest of Jack Daniel’s in 2013 said they withdrew their repeal measure Tuesday to try to generate more support before next year’s legislative session. But Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett declared the proposal dead.

“What it shows is that that dog won’t hunt — and it never will,” Arnett said. “We’ve put a stake in in this, and consider it to be over.”

The subsidiary of Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp. is by far the dominant player in the Tennessee whiskey field, producing 11.5 million cases in 2014. The next largest producer, George Dickel, makes about 130,000 cases per year, while most of the state’s other 32 licensed distilleries have yet to bring a Tennessee whiskey to market.

Jack Daniel’s says the law ensures minimum quality standards, but some smaller distillers chafed at its requirement to filter spirits through charcoal and store them in unused oak barrels in order to label them Tennessee whiskey.

Michael Ballard, owner of the Full Throttle distillery in the northwest Tennessee town of Trimble, said Arnett and Jack Daniel’s has been acting like a “bully” by demanding every new producer follow the technique known as the “Lincoln County Process.”
Continue reading

Still more on the great lobbying war over Tennessee Whiskey (gloves off, tension mounts)

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The gloves are coming off in a legislative fight over efforts to repeal state guidelines about which spirits can be labeled as “Tennessee Whiskey.”

Opponents are calling on key House and Senate committees to vote Tuesday to repeal the law enacted at the behest of Jack Daniel’s in 2013. Key sticking points include requirements for sprits to be filtered through charcoal and aged in unused barrels to be called Tennessee whiskey.

Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett is urging state lawmakers not to water down the law that he calls key to maintaining minimum quality standards, and argues that critics of the rules have misplaced priorities.

“There’s a reason they want to come to Tennessee,” he said. “They want the reputation without the work.”

Arnett also denied that Jack Daniel’s was supplying small distillers with new barrels as a way to cement their support during the legislative debate.

“Have we helped some people get barrels for a short-term window? Absolutely,” Arnett said. “When they’ve reached out and said, ‘Can you help me, I need 25 barrels?’ That’s not a lot of barrels to us, but it means a lot to them.”

“We’re not exchanging barrels for votes or anything like that,” he said. “I’m certain that that serves (opponents’) purpose to say that, but that’s not true.”

The proprietors of the Full Throttle distillery say the rules hurt their efforts to revive the small town of Trimble in northwestern Tennessee. Michael Ballard, who runs the world’s busiest bar during bike week in Sturgis, South Dakota, and business partner Jesse James Dupree, the lead singer of the hard rock band Jackyl, want to make Tennessee whiskey under different methods than allowed under state law. Dupree’s plans to build a second distillery in Trimble are on hold because of the law.

Arnett says those arguments don’t impress the majority of small distillers who want to make their Tennessee whiskey in the way enshrined in state law.

“I’m talking about people who are not the biggest bar owner in the United States worried about a minuscule investment in a small town,” Arnett said. “I’m talking about people who have got their parents houses in hock on their success, who are counting on Tennessee whiskey to mean something years from now.

“And they’re Tennesseans,” he said. “They’re not a rock singer in a big bar out in South Dakota.”

Ballard has said he has millions invested in his existing distillery that he has built in the style of the cotton gin that had been torn down years ago in his hometown — along with many of the other buildings that used to line Trimble’s main street.

“We’re building all these brand new buildings from the ground up because the old ones aren’t here anymore,” Ballard said. “Our goal is to make this like Sturgis. To create tourism for the town, create sales tax dollars.”

Dupree said he wants to tailor his whiskey to blue collar tastes, which he said is something that major producers have gotten away from.

“They’ve gotten so big they don’t mean that to blue collar America anymore,” he said. “They’re everything from a white tablecloth drink to an urban drink. They’re everything to everybody.”

Arnett of Jack Daniel’s says there’s nothing stopping Ballard and Dupree from making any kind of whiskey they want to — so long as they don’t label it as Tennessee whiskey.

“They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do,” he said. “That’s their choice.”

Distillery Bill Gets Final Approval

Reversing an earlier vote, the Senate Thursday concurred with a House amendment to a bill that clears the way for more liquor distilleries to open in Tennessee cities.
With approval of the House amendment, the bill (SB129) now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature. Two cities immediately impacted will be Chattanooga, where plans are afoot to build a whiskey distillery, and Gatlinburg, which will get a second moonshine distillery despite earlier disapproval of city officials.
Both chambers had approved the bill earlier, but the House had added an amendment that was rejected by the Senate.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said Thursday that he had not explained the amendment well prior to the earlier vote on “a bill that has been confusing from the get-go.” The amendment basically corrects a mistake in the Senate and assured that local governments can require distilleries to be located at some distance from churches and schools. It has nothing to do with allowing sales of alcoholic beverages on Sunday, as some thought previously, he said.
The vote to concur with the House amendment was 23-6.

Bill for Gatlinburg Moonshine, Chattanooga Whiskey Gets House OK

After long and contentious debate Monday night, the House joined the Senate in approving legislation that clears the way for a new moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg and a whiskey distillery in Chattanooga.
The bill (SB129) also allows new distilleries to locate in other cities that have approved liquor-by-the-drink and liquor package stores. Under a prior law enacted in 2009, only county governments – not cities – were allowed to authorize distilleries.
Sponsor Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said the measure originated with Chattanooga officials desire to have a brand called Chattanooga Whiskey, now made in Indiana, manufactured in its namesake city even though Hamilton County has not authorized distilleries.
It was expanded to allow a new moonshine distillery, Sugarlands, to locate in Gatlinburg, even though local officials have turned down its application and make what Carr called “cleanup” revisions to state alcoholic beverage laws. Gatlinburg already has Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery operating near the site of the proposed Sugarlands distillery, which counts Nashville lobbyist David McMahan as a minority investor.
Thirteen amendments were filed on the House floor to change the bill. Only one was adopted, but that will send the bill back to the Senate for concurrence. The adopted amendment, proposed by Carr, says a distillery cannot be located within 2,000 feet of a church or school – unless the local government having jurisdiction decides to set a shorter limit. That is the same rule that now applies to beer sales, Carr said.
One of the rejected amendments, filed by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, would have had the effect of blocking Sugarlands by declaring local governments could reject a distillery application. Faison said the bills was influenced by “high-powered people who have a lot of money” and should not be “dictating” how many distilleries a town can have for “high-powered corn in a jar.”
“This amendment creates a monopoly in a particular part of the state. That’s a fact,” responded Carr, reminding colleagues that the Ole Smoky operators ran a newspaper ad charging that legislators were trying to “sneak through” a bill to curb local control over liquor.
Faison’s amendment was killed on a 55-28 vote. Other rejected amendments included one by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, that would have prohibited distilleries and wineries from selling their products on Sunday.
The bill itself passed 57-31 with six lawmakers abstaining.

Of Chattanooga Whiskey, Gatlinburg Moonshine, Lobbyists and Legislators

Legislation brought to help Chattanooga whiskey has become entangled in a Gatlinburg moonshine war.
A prominent Nashville lobbyist is already a casualty – at least in losing Gatlinburg as one of his clients.
The bill in issue (HB102) cleared its first hurdle Wednesday in the House State Government Subcommittee under sponsorship of Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, over the objections of Joe Baker, who operates Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in the Sevier County city. Gatlinburg officials are also opposed to the measure.
Baker, who was on hand for the subcommittee hearing, was roundly criticized by Reps. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and Kent Williams of Elizabethton, an independent, for newspaper ads saying lobbyists were trying to “sneak” the bill through the Legislature.
Baker said the ads were based on lobbyist David McMahan, who says he is a “minority investor” in Sugarlands, a proposed new distillery that hopes to open near Ole Smoky. McMahan had been signed as a contract lobbyist for Gatlinburg, but he and city officials agreed to terminate the relationship last month after mutually deciding his ties to Sugarlands posed a conflict of interest.
Haynes said the ads were “false;” Williams said they implied “I was trying to do something underhanded.” Baker said he apologized if legislators felt the ads were disrespectful.

Continue reading

Distilling an Issue for Chattanooga Legislators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of Hamilton County’s state legislative delegation say they’re mulling a request from county commissioners to allow local whiskey distilling.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Democrat from Chattanooga, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/11FVoPn ) she believes at least five members of the seven-member delegation will support including the county in a recently-passed statute. State Rep. Richard Floyd, a Chattanooga Republican, said last week he remains adamantly opposed.
The brand Chattanooga Whiskey is currently distilled under contract in Indiana because Hamilton County requested to not be included when the statute passed in 2009.
Delegation chairman Rep. Bo Watson, a Republican, said he wants any inclusion limited to areas where voters have already approved liquor by the drink and package sales referendums.

Chattanooga Whiskey a Campaign Issue in One House Race

Democrat Frank Eaton, who faces state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, in the upcoming election, says he supports allowing businesses in Hamilton County to distill liquor, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
“We can already legally sell and responsibly drink a product with Chattanooga’s name on it right here in Hamilton County. ‘Chattanooga Whiskey’ should be made in Chattanooga,” the 27th Legislative District candidate said in a news release.
A 2009 state law lets county commissions approve distillation of spirits in counties where referendums have been approved allowing liquor-by-the-drink sales and package-store sales.
Hamilton County currently is excluded from the law.
The owners of Chattanooga Whiskey have said they want to produce their whiskey in Chattanooga instead of having it made in Indiana, where it’s now produced.
Citing his convictions and concerns about the impact of alcohol on driving, Floyd has said he opposes local whiskey manufacturing.
“I tell you alcohol kills more people every year than all illegal drugs put together,” Floyd has said. “People who make it [alcohol], people who sell it and people who buy it, they have a share of responsibility [in such deaths.]”
“By my faith, I vote against every alcohol bill,” he said.

‘Chattanooga Whiskey’ Stirs Wet, Dry Spirits in Hamilton County

Hamilton County was left out of a 2009 law passed by the legislature to allow liquor distilleries in some counties, leaving the company that makes “Chattanooga Whiskey” to make it in Indiana. The Times-Free Press reports that efforts to change the situation have stirred a controversy among legislators and local officials.
That means that for now, Chattanooga residents can drink whiskey but they can’t manufacture it until the legislature reverses itself.
Two Democratic members of the local legislative delegation — Rep. Tommie Brown and Rep. JoAnne Favors — supported the initial plan that would have allowed the distillation of liquor in Hamilton. Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, also supported allowing Hamilton County to produce liquor.
But the bill was later changed by a House and Senate conference committee to exclude various counties, including Hamilton.
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, was vehement in his opposition to having a whiskey distillery in Chattanooga, and remains adamant about it three years later.
“I tell you alcohol kills more people every year than all illegal drugs put together,” Floyd said, noting he has a friend whose only son was recently killed by a drunken driver. “People who make it [alcohol], people who sell it and people who buy it, they have a share of responsibility [in such deaths.]”
“By my faith, I vote against every alcohol bill. I’d vote twice if I could,” he said.
Sen. Andy Berke said he voted against the bill when it originally passed as well as the conference committee report because it was “confusing.”
“It seemed to set up a number of different routes and overall didn’t seem like it was going to help the entire state,” Berke said, adding his “no” vote came in “part because I thought it was confusing as to how Hamilton County was treated.”

Moore County Retreats from Plans to Tax Jack Daniel’s

By Joe Edwards, Associated Press
The makers of Jack Daniel’s whiskey can take a victory sip after a proposal by local officials to tax its barrels of booze was derailed before it could reach the Tennessee Legislature.
The Moore County Council in Lynchburg voted 10-5 Monday evening to rescind a vote asking lawmakers to authorize a local referendum on the proposal, which would have taxed Jack Daniel’s up to $5 million annually with the revenue going to local coffers.
Charles Rogers of Lynchburg, who had spearheaded the effort, said the issue “is now on life support.”
Jack Daniel’s is the world’s top-selling whiskey, distilled in the tiny town which has been celebrated in folksy, black-and-white advertisements for years.
State Rep. David Alexander, who represents Lynchburg and attended the meeting, said he considers the issue dead.
“It’s the will of the people,” he said of the council vote. “They have spoken.”
A distillery spokesman did not return an after-hours call Monday for comment.
A previous vote was 9-5 to send the proposal to the legislature, and Rogers said he was told the town had been depicted as greedy in worldwide news reports about the proposal since the first vote.
The 145-year-old distillery, owned by Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman Corp., now pays $1.5 million in local property taxes. Distillery officials had opposed the measure, saying Jack Daniel’s is already paying its fair share.
Members of the legislature had said the proposal had little chance of passing.
The distillery, tucked away on 1,700 hilly acres in south-central Tennessee, has 450 employees, making it the largest industry in the small county. About 210,000 people visit the distillery annually, qualifying it as a top tourist draw in Tennessee.
Ironically, Moore County is dry, meaning the iconic Old No. 7 cannot be legally sold in the county, just distilled.

A Tax On Whiskey Barrels?

A lawmaker from south central Tennessee says he’ll sponsor a bill next year to tax the barrels used to make Jack Daniel’s whiskey. For tiny Moore County, five million dollars are at stake. reports WPLN.
A new opinion from the state Attorney General forced the hand of state Representative Dave Alexander of Winchester. It says that, Yes, you probably could tax the barrels that whiskey-makers use.
Alexander says he will seek the new tax that the Moore County Commission voted to pursue.
But the freshman Republican says it was a hard decision, given that he was elected on a platform of what he calls “basic conservative principles.”
“One of those principles being low taxes, or certainly no more taxes, if possible. And here we’re talking about some people that say they want a tax. And on the other hand, you’ve got their right of self-determination. They have that right.”
The question would go to county voters as a referendum. If passed, the tax would affect the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, literally the only manufacturer in the cash-strapped county.
The tax wouldn’t be on whiskey, exactly. It would be on the barrels that the whiskey is aged in. The barrel would become taxable – when they pour the whiskey in it.