Not all whiskey made in Tennessee is Tennessee Whiskey
In 2013, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam signed House Bill 1084 protecting Tennessee Whiskey in the State of Tennessee.
The state law defines that Tennessee whiskey meets the requirements of bourbon like being distilled from at least 51% corn, and being aged in new charred oak containers. Furthermore, Tennessee whiskey is protected geographically as it must be produced in the State of Tennessee, and State law defined that it needs to have undergone as well the so called Lincoln County process, a charcoal filtering process (see details below) whereas only Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey is exempt of this rule.
Tennessee whiskey isn’t protected by the Federal Standards of Identity of Distilled Spirits the same way as bourbon.
It is instead protected under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that went into effect on January 1, 1994. In its Annex 313, Tennessee Whiskey is safeguarded as a distinctive product of the United States of America, and Canada and Mexico shall recognize it as Tennessee Whiskey to be produced only in the State of Tennessee, USA.
In the European Union Tennessee whiskey is like bourbon protected under international trade agreement, IP/94/250 / Drink Agreement of 1994 between United States of America and the European Union.
Charcoal filtered whiskeys
Notable examples of whiskeys using the Lincoln County Process are Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Nelson’s First 108 and Tennessee Handmade White Whiskey, Collier and McKeel Tennessee Whiskey, Southern Pride Distillery, and Clayton James Tennessee Whiskey.
Lincoln County Process
The process is named after Lincoln County, Tennessee where the location of Jack Daniel’s distillery was located at the time of its establishment. Since 1871 the county boundary changed, thus the name of the process originally associated with Jack Daniels Distillery remained. Today, the only distillery in Lincoln County is Prichard’s Distillery which is interestingly also the only distillery exempted of the Lincoln County Process for their Tennessee whiskey products.
The Lincoln County Process (LCP) includes that whiskey is filtered through or steeped in in layers of sugar maple charcoal chips before aging. This normally happens directly after distillation. This filtration step with maple charcoal was traditionally used to remove impurities from the distilled liquids. Since presented on the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition, scientists can scientifically confirm and detail that the that the Lincoln County Process filtration step is indeed adding a distinctive taste profile to Tennessee whiskey. Read more.
Tennessee whiskey in numbers
Tennessee whiskey is one of the top ten exports of the State of Tennessee. According to the Distilled Spirits Council’s 2018 economic data and 2019 export data for Tennessee, the spirit industry in Tennessee
24,620 JOBS Supported
$3,698,116,000 Addint to State GDP
$494,307,645 State Export Volume
Tennessee was a leading producer of distilled spirits prior to the Civil War. In 1908 Tennessee had hundreds of registered distilleries across the state. With prohibition beginning in Tennessee already in 1910, the production leadership shifted. Prohibition destroyed the legal spirits trade in Tennessee, and after prohibition ended in 1933 Kentucky took over the lead in spirits production in the United States.
Jack Daniel Distillery was first to reopen in Tennessee as soon after the State law allowed in 1940, followed by George Dickel in the 1950’s. Though, it lasted until the mid-1990’s that Tennessee’s first craft distillery opened: Pritchard’s distillery. In 2009 Tennessee law makers finally began reforming its prohibition-era laws and eliminated many legal barrier for craft distilling.
And these reforms paid off for Tennessee: In 2018 the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s Economic Impact report confirmed that more than 6.3 million visitors experienced the 26 distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail which was founded just one year prior by the Tennessee Distillers Guild. The spirit tourism added to one of the most important economic factors of the State with a record-breaking economic impact with overall 126 million domestic person staying in the State in 2019, up 5.7 percent from 119 million in 2018.