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Tennessee Questions Whiskey Classification

(CN) - A state law distinguishing Tennessee Whiskey from bourbon may be unconstitutional because it seems to favor one distillery, Tennessee's attorney general says.

Tennessee Code Annotated 57-2-106, enacted in 2013, prohibits liquor from being advertised or sold as Tennessee Whiskey, Tennessee Whisky, Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey or Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky unless it meets certain production criteria.

It must be made in Tennessee, mixed with at least 51 percent corn, distilled less than 160 proof, filtered through maple charcoal, aged in oak barrels in Tennessee, barreled at less than 125 proof and bottled at less than 80 proof, according to the law.

The requirement that the liquor be filtered through maple charcoal before aging is called the "Lincoln County Process" and is designed to differentiate Tennessee Whiskey from bourbon, according to the attorney general's opinion.

However, one distillery - Prichard's Distillery - is specifically exempt through a grandfather clause, allowing it to use the term Tennessee Whiskey without actually using the Lincoln County Process.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery said that the exemption doesn't create grandfather rights for distilleries and doesn't address other distilleries that were already selling Tennessee Whiskey. Rather, he said, the exception "merely employs specific dates in order to exempt one distillery from the Lincoln County Process requirement."

"There is no discernible reason to distinguish one distillery from other existing distilleries on this basis, especially since the exemption at issue is purportedly the one that distinguishes Tennessee Whiskey from bourbon," Slatery wrote. "Thus, Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-2-106(c) constitutes impermissible discrimination in violation of the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as impermissible class legislation in violation of article XI, section 8, of the Tennessee Constitution."

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