Full Throttle S’loonshine proprietor Michael Ballard and American Outlaw Spirits C.E.O. Jesse James Dupree last week offered testimony to the Tennessee State Senate that state’s formal adoption of the Jack Daniels distillation and production process as the definition of “Tennessee Whiskey” violates protections under the United States Constitution and unnecessarily puts the state legislature in the position of regulating both the taste and recipe of spirits marketed as “Tennessee Whiskey.” The duo testified in front of the Tennessee State Senate’s State & Local Government Committee which was assembled to take a closer look at the Tennessee Whiskey Labeling Law enacted in 2013. Dismantling the “Tennessee Whiskey” legislation based on the Jack Daniels process is mission number one for Ballard and Dupree, who plan to open a whiskey distillery in Trimble, TN that will produce and sell its own proprietary whiskey.
Dupree testified, “I apologize on behalf of the people (Jack Daniels) that pulled Tennessee into this mess. The state should have never been asked to do this because it defies the Constitution in three ways, plus no individual state can define “whiskey.” This (Tennessee) is the wrong venue; this is a federal matter.” Ballard added, “Whiskey is a word that cannot be trademarked. Tennessee is a geographical location, which is exactly the reason why the federal government denied Jack Daniels ownership of that trademark.” Dupree bolstered the claim that the legislation is unconstitutional by pointing out in his testimony that, when it enacted the legislation, the Tennessee Legislature carved out a specific exception from the law for Prichard Distilleries. Testifying before Tennessee State Senators Yager (R), Johnson (R), Bowling (R), Green (R), Harper (D), Ketron (R), Norris (R), Stevens (R), and Tate (D), Ballard and Dupree emphasized that the marketing, labeling, and sale of Tennessee distilled products fall under federal jurisdiction and the federal Constitutional law, and thus cannot not be impeded by protectionist state laws such as Tennessee’s whiskey labeling law. Additionally, they publicly urge Diageo to state the company’s position — challenge the law or make it clear they stand with Brown Forman as any compromise would still be illegal and unacceptable.
The S’loonshine Moonshine line of spirits is currently distilled in Trimble, TN. Dupree, however, made it clear that his company will not break ground on its planned whiskey distillery in the state prior to a final verdict on this on-going debate. Thus, Dupree testified, the labeling law as it stands is costing Tennessee new businesses, jobs and taxes.
During his testimony, Dupree exhibited a television appearance by FOX NEWS’ Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano who offered, “Here’s the problem. We have something in the Constitution called the ‘Commerce Clause.’ And, the Commerce Clause is intended to permit the free flow of goods and services across interstate lines, unimpeded by monopolies and cartels and protectionist legislation by state legislatures.” After citing a case in which a federal court ruled it was a violation of the Commerce Clause for the state of New Jersey to pass legislation requiring the “New York Football Giants” football team to change its name to the “New Jersey Football Giants” upon relocation of the franchise to the state of New Jersey, Napolitano continued, “. . . Don’t they have a first amendment in Tennessee? . . . This is really almost unforgivable . . . Because they took the Jack Daniels recipe, exactly as the Jack Daniels people gave it to them, and made it the law . . . That is exactly what the Commerce Clause was written to prevent the states from doing.”
In summary, Dupree offered in testimony, “If you do your research, which I am sure you will, the federal government does mandate the definitions and guidelines for whiskey. What is the state of Tennessee going to do to enforce this? Is this legal for you to be making this call when it is the wrong venue? Leave this to the federal government who will have to govern this across state lines and internationally. Second, is it legal for Mr. Prichard to have an exemption and Mike Ballard not to have one, or myself not to have one? You have to ask yourself what’s right? If you are going to do this then you have to determine what’s a Tennessee car, what’s a Tennessee slice of pizza, what’s a Tennessee desk? You are going to have to define all those things. I ask that you avoid [Tennessee] getting a black eye. This is going to be challenged in federal court.”
Tennessee resident Ballard then took the stand, and, as proprietor of Full Throttle Distillery since 2010 and owner of the Full Throttle Saloon over the last fifteen years, dismantled the notion that the law has anything to do with consumer relevance with respect to the term “Tennessee Whiskey.” Ballard urged that what the law really about is big business, detailing how the distilling industry is experiencing a trend similar to that in the beer market – where micro-breweries rose to capture 40% of the market share — and equating the entire lobbying effort and legislation to a preventative shot by the industry giants aimed to prevent an even playing field for up and coming distilleries. To view the complete hearing, click here: http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=267&clip_id=9632
Ballard and Dupree are committed to the repeal of Tennessee’s whiskey labeling law. They stand firm that this is a federal issue, that the Tennessee whiskey labeling law should be repealed, and that the issue will be taken to the higher courts if the Tennessee legislature fails to properly recognize that this matter is beyond its jurisdiction.
Ballard has made a significant contribution to the Tennessee economy since opening a distillery here and has been the driving force behind the re-birth of an American town. Once a booming cotton mecca, Trimble, TN fell on hard times. But, the Tennessee town now enjoys an optimistic future on the heels of Ballard’s entrepreneurial spirit. Since Ballard’s S’loonshine opened, Trimble has become a destination town which further nurtures the town’s rebirth by driving commerce for local hotels, restaurants and businesses. According to Dupree, should he and his company be afforded an equal playing field for whiskey distillation in state true to the federal Constitution, he shares Ballard’s commitment to broadening the duo’s investment in Northwestern Tennessee.
Ballard and Dupree began their challenge to the Tennessee Whiskey Labeling Law last year. They seek a repeal of current definition of “Tennessee Whiskey” fundamentally on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and protectionist in nature, but also because its further exacerbates the uneven playing field in the industry in which the existing barrel shortage gravely impacts smaller distilleries that do not own internal cooperages. Ballard and Dupree vow that they will not capitulate in their quest to repeal a law that they see as unfairly benefiting the Tennessee whiskey industry goliath, Louisville, KY based Brown-Forman Corp., who supported the enactment of the law. Ballard and Dupree jointly state, “If a car is manufactured in Michigan then it is a Michigan car just like any whiskey made in the state of Tennessee is a Tennessee whiskey.”