Tennessee whiskey is straight bourbon whiskey produced in Tennessee. However, most current producers of Tennessee whiskey disclaim references to their products as "Bourbon" and do not label them as such on any of their bottles or advertising materials.
What constitutes Tennessee whiskey is legally established under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and at least one other international trade agreement that require that Tennessee whiskey be "a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee". Canadian food and drug laws  state that Tennessee whiskey must be "a straight Bourbon whisky produced in the State of Tennessee".
Relatively few brands of Tennessee whiskey survive today, due to a statewide prohibition that lasted longer than the national prohibition. As of 2013, many Tennessee counties still prohibit the sale of alcohol. In 2009, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the statute that had for many years limited the distillation of drinkable spirits to just three of Tennessee's 95 counties (Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee). The revised law allows distilleries to be established in 41 additional counties. This change was expected to lead to the establishment of small distilleries, thus increasing the number of producers of Tennessee whiskey.
On May 13, 2013, the governor of Tennessee signed House Bill 1084, requiring the Lincoln County process to be used for products produced in the state labeling themselves as "Tennessee Whiskey" with a particular exception tailored to exempt Benjamin Prichard's, and included the existing requirements for bourbon. As federal law requires statements of origin on labels to be accurate, the Tennessee law effectively gives a firm definition to Tennessee whiskey.
By 1810, registered distilleries in the state numbered 14,191 and were producing 25.5 million gallons of whiskey. As of March 2013, there are four brands with at least one Tennessee whiskey on the market, and several with whiskey in the barrel awaiting release.
Producers of Tennessee whiskey
- Jack Daniel's (a Brown-Forman brand) from Lynchburg, TN
- George Dickel (a Diageo brand) from Tullahoma, TN
- Benjamin Prichard's from Kelso, TN
- Collier and McKeel from Nashville, TN
Whiskey made in Tennessee but not "Tennessee whiskey"
Although the Ole Smoky Distillery (which began operation in 2010) is located in Tennessee and it produces a product that is a whiskey, the product cannot be sold as "Tennessee whiskey", because it is not aged. (It is legally classified as a corn whiskey rather than a bourbon as required for the "Tennessee whiskey" label.) Their product is instead marketed as "Tennessee moonshine".
George Dickel began production of a rye whiskey in 2012, which also cannot be labelled as Tennessee whiskey, because it is produced from a rye-based mash and it is also not distilled in Tennessee. Most of the stages of its production are conducted under contract in Indiana, and the whiskey is then trucked to the Diageo site near Chicago, IL for filtering through Dickel's charcoal and bottling.
Jack Daniel's began production in 2012 of what they dubbed a Tennessee Rye. As it is 70% rye and is not aged, it is not labeled as a "Tennessee whiskey", or even as "whiskey" (and cannot be legally, as the mash bill is under 80% corn and therefore does not qualify as "corn whiskey" and it is not aged and therefore does not qualify as "whiskey" outside of the "corn whiskey" category). The label bears the term "Spirits Distilled from Grain", and it is not aged in wood at all. They have stated that an aged version of the same mash bill will be released in the future once its aging is complete, which should qualify as a rye whiskey.
Lincoln County Process
Jack Daniels, George Dickel and Collier & McKeel Tennessee whiskeys undergo a filtering stage called the Lincoln County Process, in which the whiskey is filtered through (or steeped in) a thick layer of maple charcoal before it is put into new charred oak barrels for aging. The companies that produce whiskey in this manner suggest that this step improves the flavor of the whiskey. The filtering process is named for Lincoln County, Tennessee, which contained the Jack Daniel's distillery when it originally began its operation. However, in 1871, the boundaries of the county were changed, such that the Jack Daniel's distillery and the surrounding area became part of the newly created Moore County. The only whiskey currently produced within the current boundaries of Lincoln County is Prichard's, which does not use the Lincoln County Process.
In popular culture
- "North American Free Trade Agreement Annex 313: Distinctive products". Sice.oas.org. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
- SICE - Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Chile, Section E, Article 3.15 "Distinctive products".
- "Canada Food and Drug regulations, C.R.C. C.870, provision B.02.022.1". Laws.justice.gc.ca. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
- Gaston, Kay Baker (1999). "Tennessee Distilleries: Their Rise, Fall, and Re-emergence". Border States: Journal of the Kentucky-Tennessee American Studies Association. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- John T. Edge, That's the Whiskey Talking, Gourmet.com (Gourmet magazine website), August 13, 2009
- "Distilleries". TennesseeWhiskey.com. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- "Rye Whiskey". Prichard's Distillery. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Collier and McKeel". Collier and McKeel. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
- "Tennessee Spirits Company". Tennessee Spirits Company. Archived from the original on 2006-06-30. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
- Cynthia Yeldell, Ole Smoky Distillery to debut moonshine – Business to open in Gatlinburg on July 2 with free tours, samples, Knoxville News Sentinel, June 9, 2010.
- Charles A. Cowdery, George Dickel Gives a Different Taste to LDI Rye, The Chuck Cowdery Blog, October 26, 2012.
- "Jack Daniel's Unaged Rye Whiskey". uncrate. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Bryson, Lew. Whisky Advocate 22 (1) http://www.maltadvocate.com/whisky_reviews.asp?Search=Y
|url=missing title (help). Retrieved 5 April 2013.
- "Unaged Tennessee Rye". Jack Daniel's. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Biography, Dean Dillon website, accessed December 22, 2009
- Waymack, Mark H., and James F. Harris (1999). The Book of Classic American Whiskeys. Open Court. ISBN 978-0-8126-9305-8