Jack Daniel’s, It’s Like I Don’t Even Know You Anymore — Troy Senik

 

I’d like to tell you that the rollout of Ricochet 2.0 was sponsored by Jack Daniel’s, but that would imply that they were putting money into my pocket instead of the other way around. Yes, like any good writer, when the yoke becomes heavy I often pour my therapy into a tumbler (to say nothing of my writerly support for the coffee and tobacco industries — I’m a one-man farm bill!). I may have doubled the GDP of Lynchburg this week.

shutterstock_174073781Being partial to whiskey — and my intermittent home state of Tennessee — Jack Daniel’s is less a choice and more a matter of muscle memory. It’s woven into the very fabric of the Volunteer State.

Alas, the folks who make it seem to think that their history and their market dominance is insufficient to secure pride of place. What do they want? Well, shouldn’t it be obvious? Gubmint!

From Reid Wilson at the Washington Post:

A year-long fight among state legislators over the definition of true Tennessee whiskey is spilling over to the international distilled spirits business, dividing both Tennessee’s powerful whiskey interests and multinational corporations battling for billions of dollars in global market share.

For more than a century, distillers around Tennessee have produced whiskey — some legal, some illegal — using a variety of base products like corn, barley or rye, and a number of different techniques. But under a new law passed by the legislature last year, only one process would lead to genuine Tennessee whiskey: a drink made of fermented mash comprised of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new barrels of charred oak, filtered through charcoal and bottled at 40 percent alcohol, or higher, by volume.

Sorry, I just have to break in here. “Some illegal” is an olympian euphemism. I’ve been in those hills. The moonshine is practically the medium of exchange. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled programming:

On Tuesday, two Tennessee legislative committees voted to delay consideration of a new proposal that would roll back some of those requirements. The disagreement centers on the process by which Tennessee whiskey is distilled, and whether a producer has to use pricey new oak barrels every year. Current law requires those new barrels be used.

The bill up for debate, proposed by state Rep. Bill Sanderson (R), would allow whiskey makers to age their products in reused barrels, a process far less expensive than one that requires buying new barrels of expensive American oak year after year. Supporters of the 2013 law said it was necessary to codify what the industry calls standards of identity, a concrete definition of what makes Tennessee whiskey special — and different from other, lower-quality spirits. But opponents say the law effectively codifies Jack Daniel’s formula.

Now, I’m a Jack Daniel’s apologist par excellence — being elevated to the rank of Tennessee Squire is on my bucket list, though this post will probably forever render that goal out of reach —but the opponents are right.

Personally, I don’t see any reason for “standards of identity” to be a government concern. That’s not basic disclosure of the kind usually handled through state regulation — it’s the sort of brand differentiation that is the rightful purview of trade associations, not lawmakers. I’d rather not have politicians telling people who make whiskey in Tennessee that they can’t call it “Tennessee whiskey.”

The barrels used in this process are expensive; doubly so given recent disruptions to the oak supply. Jack Daniel’s not only has market power that insulates it from these costs, it also has vertical integration — it owns its own cooperage in Louisville. The little guys — not so much.

That’s the whole idea: you want to play the Jack Daniel’s game, you’ll pay Jack Daniel’s prices. Way to harsh everybody’s buzz, JD.

Of course, the consequences here are small by the standards of regulatory capture. The other boozemakers can still release their product, just not with the “Tennessee Whiskey” appellation. In the end, this market will still be free enough that victors will be crowned at the intersection of price and quality. Some may look at that and say, “why bother getting worked up about in the first place?” I look at it and say, “Why bother getting government involved in it in the first place?”

It pains me to see my liquid religion brushing up against my political convictions. Love, however, is not a matter of ignoring faults — it’s a matter of maintaining your affection despite them.

I’ll have another.

There are 47 comments.

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  1. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    Troy Senik, Ed.: Personally, I don’t see any reason for “standards of identity” to be a government concern. That’s not basic disclosure of the kind usually handled through state regulation — it’s the sort of brand differentiation that is the rightful purview of trade associations, not lawmakers.

     You’re right about that.  The kind of voluntary associations Tocqueville admired have been slowly yielding ground to the state for far too long.

    • #1
  2. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    This happens in the EU, which should be reason enough to refrain from emulation.

    Champaigne?

    My favorite is Barack Palinka (not pronounced like the president).  It’s a Hungarian apricot brandy, and I love all things Hungarian; but, much like Champaigne… the California stuff is just as good.  It’s cronyism no matter how you slice it.

    • #2
  3. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Some wild turkey ought to put a stop to this!

    • #3
  4. oleneo65 Coolidge
    oleneo65
    @oleneo65

    Troy, private message me and I can make the TN Squire thing happen.

    • #4
  5. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    It’s time to grow up and switch to scotch. I suppose that sweet whiskey like Jack Daniels is okay for children and old ladies, but as a serious drinker you should accept no substitute for an Islay whisky.

    • #5
  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I hate to hear that. It is my drink of choice.

    Troy, it is not that hard to be a squire. What is stopping you?

    • #6
  7. user_71324 Contributor
    user_71324
    @TroySenik

    Salvatore Padula:

    It’s time to grow up and switch to scotch. I suppose that sweet whiskey like Jack Daniels is okay for children and old ladies, but as a serious drinker you should accept no substitute for an Islay whisky.

     Really frustrated right now that Ricochet 2.0 didn’t incorporate that “heresy” button I asked for.

    • #7
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ryan M:
    This happens in the EU, which should be reason enough to refrain from emulation.
    Champaigne?
    My favorite is Barack Palinka (not pronounced like the president). It’s a Hungarian apricot brandy, and I love all things Hungarian; but, much like Champaigne… the California stuff is just as good. It’s cronyism no matter how you slice it.

    I think the EU’s latest dispute was over Prosek, a Croatian wine which was deemed to sound “too similar” to Prosecco, despite the fact that it’s clearly its own thing.

    I have a Hungarian friend whose family still imports their Tokaji and Egri Bikavér from Hungary. They swear by it, and it’s pretty good. I don’t know how much they pay for it, though. Wine from the Republic of Georgia can also be rather good – or not – but at any rate, it’s not too expensive where we live.

    • #8
  9. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Salvatore Padula:
    It’s time to grow up and switch to scotch. I suppose that sweet whiskey like Jack Daniels is okay for children and old ladies, but as a serious drinker you should accept no substitute for an Islay whisky.

    Really frustrated right now that Ricochet 2.0 didn’t incorporate that “heresy” button I asked for.

     I can understand why you’re upset. The truth is often painful.

    As an aside, when I lived in Scotland I made a point of drinking American whiskey while with my Scottish friends. This despite the fact that it is clearly inferior to scotch. I shudder now when I recall the sacrifices I’ve made for my country.

    • #9
  10. user_71324 Contributor
    user_71324
    @TroySenik

    It’s ok, Sal. You were there for me on the folly of presidential term limits. That earned you some credit. I mean, you’ve spent it on this thread … but you did have it at one point.

     

    • #10
  11. Mollie Hemingway Contributor
    Mollie Hemingway
    @MollieHemingway

    Beautifully written.

    • #11
  12. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    It’s ok, Sal. You were there for me on the folly of presidential term limits. That earned you some credit. I mean, you’ve spent it on this thread … but you did have it at one point.

    Alas, glory is fleeting. Obscurity is forever.

    • #12
  13. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    JD is following precedent: Bourbon is defined by federal law.  51% corn mash, new charred oak barrels, drawn off the still At 135 proof, aged 2 years.  That is in the Federal register as the definition of Bourbon.  

    Butjd is playing a fools game in trying to claim such distinction for rheir rotgut.  JD ain’t bourbon.

    • #13
  14. user_45283 Inactive
    user_45283
    @MarkMonaghan

    I have only four words for you Troy:  George Dickel Barrel Select.

    • #14
  15. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Our politicians are the worst kind of prostitutes if they’re cheaper than innovation and quality.

    • #15
  16. rico Inactive
    rico
    @rico

    Hey Troy, how about passing that bottle over to the member feed…

    • #16
  17. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    @ Midge:  I have a 2nd cousin who is actually an alcohol exporter in Budapest, my mom visited and he sent me back several bottles of wine and palinka.  I’m really annoyed about how hard it is to find Tokaji in the US.  In Yakima, it’s virtually impossible.

    • #17
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Salvatore Padula:

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Salvatore Padula: It’s time to grow up and switch to scotch. I suppose that sweet whiskey like Jack Daniels is okay for children and old ladies, but as a serious drinker you should accept no substitute for an Islay whisky.

    Really frustrated right now that Ricochet 2.0 didn’t incorporate that “heresy” button I asked for.

    I can understand why you’re upset. The truth is often painful.
    As an aside, when I lived in Scotland I made a point of drinking American whiskey while with my Scottish friends. This despite the fact that it is clearly inferior to scotch. I shudder now when I recall the sacrifices I’ve made for my country.

     You have a bizarre contrarian streak, Sal.

    Me, I show my patriotism by being an equal-opportunity whisky-liker. Why not like a wide variety? They are not husbands, after all, where exclusivity is expected.

    Long live 3-Methyl-4-octanolide!

    • #18
  19. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    For some reason, I’m thirsty.

    • #19
  20. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

     

    You have a bizarre contrarian streak, Sal.

     No I don’t!

    • #20
  21. user_71324 Contributor
    user_71324
    @TroySenik

    This is either one of the nicest things anyone’s ever offered me or the most elaborate “Nigerian prince looking to wire money to the U.S.” scam I’ve ever seen.

    • #21
  22. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    repellant to mosquitoes and flies?  Of course it wasn’t necessary, but I just came up with another excuse to carry around a glass of whiskey all summer long.

    • #22
  23. user_199279 Coolidge
    user_199279
    @ChrisCampion

    I live in Vermont, and in order for any business to slap the “Made In Vermont” label onto its product, you have to jump through oval objects at great expense to your business, else the state’s Law Boyz get involved, and off comes the label.

    This has been done under the aegis of “branding”, which, of course, the state must control, because what fool thinks the state’s administrative apparatus doesn’t have the best interests of the People involved?  The same state that has 1/3 of its budget through federal dollars, has over a decade of 0% net job growth, and its largest employment sector is the state.

    In other words, I’m not sure anyone seems to realize that not only does the state not help, it hurts, and the JD story here is of a piece of that.  Maybe not exactly the same, but similar.  It’s state-sanctioned product branding.

    That phrase, “state-sanctioned product branding” seems to belong more at home in Putin’s Russia than anywhere in the US.  But there it is.  (Whoop).

    • #23
  24. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    When it comes to whiskey, I only have one thing to say: Éire go Brách!

    • #24
  25. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    It sounds like protection for the barrel industry, rather than the whiskey industry.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    If I was in Scotland, I wouldn’t make a point of drinking Canadian Club.

    • #26
  27. user_18586 Thatcher
    user_18586
    @DanHanson

    “If alcohol is a crutch,  Jack Daniels is a wheelchair.”

     – Robin Williams

    • #27
  28. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Go easy on Sal and his choice of beverage.  He takes his whiskey with a side of Gummy Bears.  I think it’s unresolved childhood trauma.

    • #28
  29. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    I smell the influence of Big Oak.  Are the Kochs in oak?

    • #29
  30. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Salvatore Padula:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    You have a bizarre contrarian streak, Sal.

    No I don’t!

     Don’t pay any attention to her, Sal. There’s nothing wrong with principled application of a contrarian nature.

    (I sure hope no one agrees with that because I really like that position and I’d hate to have to give it up.)

    • #30

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