Give distillers a “shot” at competition

November 3, 2014 2:21PM

Jack Daniel’s is an iconic Tennessee brand that sells more whiskey around the world than any other American distiller. But being the king of whiskey is not enough for the company. Last year, it successfully persuaded the Tennessee legislature to define the term “Tennessee whiskey” in a way that gives it a leg up over its competitors, and in hearings this week, its representatives pressed lawmakers to stay the course. Now that our state lawmakers have weighed in—ever the experts in determining what is good hooch—one cannot claim the term “Tennessee whiskey” unless his product is “made from 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.” This restriction is akin to another government directive that we at Beacon have long chided: occupational licensing. The state requires a license for 111 different occupations, and further regulates more industries with “titling acts” that require government permission. For instance, one cannot call herself a “registered interior designer” without first getting the government’s blessing. Rules that limit competition by giving the government monopoly over certain terms, whether it’s “registered interior designer” or “Tennessee whiskey” fly in the face of freedom and free enterprise. Consumers, not politicians, should determine who can rightly use these terms. I’m pretty confident whiskey drinkers have given ol’ Jack the green light on calling itself “Tennessee whiskey,” so the company shouldn’t need legislation to keep it that way. On the bright side, one of Jack’s biggest competitors, nearby George Dickel, is advocating for repealing the law enacted last year. While Dickel itself meets the definition laid out by lawmakers, its lobbyist correctly said in last week’s hearings:

“I don’t think it’s up to the state to decide that, ‘Hey, only one way of making Tennessee whiskey is going to be allowed, and we’re going to give it the state seal of approval, when for over 150 years the state did not weigh in,” he said.

For the sake of freedom—and the budding entrepreneurs hoping to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel—lawmakers should return the state to its neutral position on the issue, letting consumers decide what is and is not true “Tennessee whiskey.” -Justin Owen