Tennessee whiskey

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Whiskey being aged at Jack Daniel's Distillery, c. 2000

Tennessee whiskey is straight whiskey produced in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Although it has been legally defined as a bourbon whiskey in some international trade agreements,[1][2][3] most current producers of Tennessee whiskey disclaim references to their products as "bourbon" and do not label them as such on any of their bottles or advertising materials. All current Tennessee whiskey producers are required by Tennessee law to produce their whiskeys in Tennessee and – with the sole exception of Benjamin Prichard's – to use a filtering step known as the Lincoln County Process prior to aging the whiskey. Beyond the perceived marketing value of the distinction, Tennessee whiskey and bourbon have almost identical requirements, and most Tennessee whiskeys meet the criteria for bourbon.[4]

Tennessee whiskey is one of the top ten exports of Tennessee.[5] According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, as of 2013, the U.S. market for bourbon and Tennessee whiskey reached $2.4 billion, and exports of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey grew to exceed $1 billion.[5][6][7] There are currently two major producers of Tennessee whiskey – Jack Daniel's (owned by Brown-Forman) and George Dickel (owned by Diageo) – as well as other smaller producers – Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, TennSouth, Benjamin Prichard's, and Collier & McKeel. In June 2017, the Tennessee Distillers Guild launched the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, a 25-stop distillery tour across the state, to further promote Tennessee whiskey and local whiskey culture.[8]

Legal status[edit]

On a federal level, the definition of Tennessee whiskey is legally established under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)[1] and at least one other international trade agreement[2] that require it to be "a straight Bourbon whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee". Canadian food and drug laws state that Tennessee whiskey must be "a straight Bourbon whisky produced in the State of Tennessee".[3]

On a state level, the State of Tennessee has imposed stringent requirements for Tennessee whiskey. It is not enough under state law that the whiskey be produced in Tennessee; it must also meet specific quality and production standards.[9] On May 13, 2013, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam signed House Bill 1084, requiring the Lincoln County process (which involves maple charcoal filtering) to be used for products produced in the state labeled as "Tennessee Whiskey", along with the existing requirements for bourbon (e.g., mash consisting of at least 51% corn, aging in new charred oak barrels, and limits on alcohol by volume concentration for distillation, aging, and bottling). The law contains a specific exception for Benjamin Prichard's, which does not use the Lincoln County process.[10][11] As federal law requires statements of origin on labels to be accurate, the Tennessee law effectively gives a firm definition to Tennessee whiskey.[9][10]

Although Jack Daniel's supported the 2013 legislation – stating it was necessary to bring the quality of Tennessee whiskey to the level of bourbons and Scotches – some of the state's smaller distilleries opposed it, arguing the process required by the law was too close to the process used by Jack Daniel's. Phil Prichard, the owner and distiller of Benjamin Prichard's, stated, "If I wanted my whiskey to taste like Jack Daniel's, I would make it like Jack Daniel's." Jeff Arnett, the Master Distiller at Jack Daniel's, noted that stringent requirements were required by Scotch makers in Scotland and champagne makers in France, and Tennessee whiskey should not be treated any differently.[12]

In 2014, legislation was introduced in the Tennessee state legislature to amend the 2013 law to allow the reuse of barrels in the aging process. Diageo, which owns George Dickel, supported the proposed change. Arnett blasted the proposed amendment, going as far as to accuse Diageo of attempting to weaken the quality of Tennessee whiskey to protect its Scotch and bourbon brands. Diageo argued that the 2013 law was an attempt by Jack Daniel's to push smaller competitors out of the market.[13]

Relatively few brands of Tennessee whiskey exist today, due to statewide prohibition that lasted even longer than national prohibition.[14] As of 2013, many Tennessee counties still prohibit the sale of alcohol. In 2009, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the statute that had for many years limited the distillation of drinkable spirits to just three of Tennessee's 95 counties (Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee). The revised law allows distilleries to be established in 41 additional counties. This change is expected to lead to the establishment of more small distilleries, thus increasing the number of producers of Tennessee whiskey.[15]


As of March 2013, there are four brands with at least one Tennessee whiskey on the market and several with whiskey in barrels awaiting release.[16]

Producers of Tennessee whiskey[edit]

New current production[edit]

Chattanooga Whiskey Company currently sells mostly whiskey produced in Indiana, but the company opened a micro-distillery for production of Tennessee whiskey in downtown Chattanooga.[26] Production was first initiated in Indiana rather than Chattanooga due to Prohibition-era laws that prevented distilling within Hamilton County,[27] but that law was changed in May 2013.[28] Chattanooga Whiskey opened a large-scale distillery in Chattanooga in 2017 and started producing whiskey in March 2017. The micro-distillery in downtown Chattanooga continues to make boutique whiskeys.

Historic producers[edit]

Whiskey made in Tennessee that is not "Tennessee whiskey"[edit]

All Tennessee Whiskey is from Tennessee, but that does not mean all whiskey from Tennessee qualifies as "Tennessee Whiskey". For example, the Ole Smoky Distillery (which began operation in 2010[29]) is located in Tennessee and produces a whiskey product, but the product cannot be sold as Tennessee whiskey because it is not aged. Instead, it is legally classified as a corn whiskey rather than carrying the "Tennessee whiskey" label and is marketed as "Tennessee moonshine".

George Dickel began production of a rye whiskey in 2012 that also cannot be labeled as Tennessee whiskey because it is produced from a rye-based mash and is not distilled in Tennessee. Most of the stages of its production are conducted under contract in Indiana, and the whiskey is then trucked to the Diageo bottling plant in Plainfield, Illinois, for filtering with charcoal made at the Dickel distillery and then bottling.[30] In early 2014, the brand introduced a white corn whiskey using an unaged version of its standard mashbill, which consists of more than 80% corn, allowing for its sale as "corn whiskey".[31] The bottle makes no reference to Tennessee whiskey.

Production began in 2012 of a Jack Daniel's Tennessee Rye.[32] As it is 70% rye, it is not labeled as a Tennessee whiskey. A limited initial release that was not aged in wood was labeled "Spirits Distilled from Grain".[33] A second limited release, called "Rested Rye", was released after two years of aging and labeled a straight rye whiskey.[34] A fully aged version was released in 2017.[35]

Benjamin Prichard's also produces a Tennessee Rye Whiskey, an unaged corn whiskey called Lincoln County Lightning, a malt whiskey, and two whiskeys labeled as bourbon.[36] Like Prichard's Tennessee whiskey, these are not charcoal filtered prior to aging.

Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey is an unaged corn whiskey.[9]

Lincoln County Process[edit]

Jack Daniel's, George Dickel, Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, and Collier & McKeel Tennessee whiskeys undergo a filtering stage called the Lincoln County Process, in which the whiskey is filtered through (or steeped in) a thick layer of maple charcoal before it is put into new charred oak barrels for aging.[37] The companies that produce whiskey in this manner suggest this step improves the flavor of the whiskey. The filtering process is named for Lincoln County, Tennessee, the home of the Jack Daniel's distillery when it originally began operations. However, in 1871, the boundaries of the county changed, placing the Jack Daniel's distillery and the surrounding area in the newly created Moore County. Ironically, the only whiskey currently produced within the current boundaries of Lincoln County is Prichard's, which is the only Tennessee whiskey that does not use the Lincoln County Process.[38]

In popular culture[edit]

Tennessee whiskey is the namesake for the country music song "Tennessee Whiskey", written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove and released as a hit single by George Jones in 1983.[39] More recently, the song was covered by Chris Stapleton in 2015 on his album Traveller.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "North American Free Trade Agreement Annex 313: Distinctive products". Sice.oas.org. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b SICE - Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Chile, Section E, Article 3.15 "Distinctive products".
  3. ^ a b "Canada Food and Drug regulations, C.R.C. C.870, provision B.02.022.1" (PDF). Government of Canada Justice Laws Website. Retrieved August 15, 2017. 
  4. ^ "Beginner's Guide to Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey". pastemagazine.com. Retrieved 2018-09-23. 
  5. ^ a b "Jack Daniel denounces barrel legislation". Tullahoma News. Retrieved 2018-09-23. 
  6. ^ "U.S. Bourbon and TN Whiskey Drive Export Records in 2013 – Distilled Spirits Council". www.distilledspirits.org. Retrieved 2018-09-23. 
  7. ^ Distilled Spirits Council Industry Review, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, February 4, 2014.
  8. ^ "Tennessee Whiskey Trail Features 25 Distilleries Across the State". Cocktail Enthusiast. June 20, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c Esterl, Mike (March 18, 2014). "Jack Daniels Faces Whiskey Rebellion". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on March 19, 2014. Retrieved March 18, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Zandona, Eric. "Tennessee Whiskey Gets a Legal Definition". EZdrinking. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Public Chapter No. 341" (PDF). State of Tennessee. Retrieved March 19, 2014. 
  12. ^ Smith, Max (March 14, 2014). "Liquor Giants Battle Over Tennessee Whiskey, Barrels". The Tennessean. USA Today. Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Jack Daniel denounces barrel legislation". Tullahoma News. Retrieved 2018-09-23. 
  14. ^ Gaston, Kay Baker (1999). "Tennessee Distilleries: Their Rise, Fall, and Re-emergence". Border States: Journal of the Kentucky-Tennessee American Studies Association. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  15. ^ John T. Edge, That's the Whiskey Talking, Gourmet.com (Gourmet magazine website), August 13, 2009
  16. ^ "Distilleries". TennesseeWhiskey.com. Archived from the original on March 7, 2013. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Nelson's Green Brier Distillery". Retrieved February 27, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Collier and McKeel". Collier and McKeel. Archived from the original on April 5, 2013. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  19. ^ "TennSouth Distillery hedges against whiskey shortage". Gannett Satellite Information Network. USA Today. June 2, 2014. Retrieved June 24, 2014. 
  20. ^ "TennSouth Distillery". Pick Tennessee products. Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ "TennSouth Distillery". Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Fugitives Spirits". Retrieved October 12, 2017. 
  23. ^ "Tennessee Whiskey Trail - Distilleries of Middle Tennessee". Retrieved October 12, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Blue Lifestyle Reviews". Retrieved October 12, 2017. 
  25. ^ "Nashville Whiskey Festival". Retrieved October 12, 2017. 
  26. ^ John Rawlston (May 12, 2015). "How it's made: the illustrated guide to distilling Chattanooga Whiskey". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved July 25, 2015. 
  27. ^ "Chattanooga whiskey can't be made in Chattanooga due to Prohibition-era laws". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Gov. Bill Haslam signs whiskey bill". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  29. ^ Cynthia Yeldell, Ole Smoky Distillery to debut moonshine – Business to open in Gatlinburg on July 2 with free tours, samples, Knoxville News Sentinel, June 9, 2010.
  30. ^ Charles A. Cowdery, George Dickel Gives a Different Taste to LDI Rye, The Chuck Cowdery Blog, October 26, 2012.
  31. ^ "George Dickel White Corn Whisky Foundation No. 1 Recipe". bevindustry.com. January 22, 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2014. 
  32. ^ "Jack Daniel's Unaged Rye Whiskey". uncrate. Retrieved March 14, 2013. 
  33. ^ Bryson, Lew. "Buying Guide". Whisky Advocate. 22 (1). Archived from the original on January 27, 2013. Retrieved April 5, 2013. 
  34. ^ Geoff Kleinman (April 7, 2014). "Review: Jack Daniels Rested Tennessee Rye Whiskey". drinkspirits.com. Retrieved June 17, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Single Barrel Rye". 
  36. ^ "Products". Prichard's Distillery. Retrieved September 3, 2017. 
  37. ^ "Lincoln County Process". Whiskey Advocate. Retrieved December 24, 2017. 
  38. ^ Waterbury, Margarett. "Tennessee Whiskey and the Lincoln County Process". The Whiskey Wash. Retrieved December 24, 2017. 
  39. ^ "Biography". Dean Dillon website,. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Waymack, Mark H., and James F. Harris (1999). The Book of Classic American Whiskeys. Open Court. ISBN 978-0-8126-9305-8