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Whisk(e)y Law, Part One: Why it Matters


Law books are tedious, lack imagination, and lay the groundwork for conformity. In short, they’re everything whiskey isn’t. So why should we spend time becoming familiar with them? Because a large part of what makes whiskey “whiskey,” are the laws governing the golden spirit.

What do I mean? For example, what makes one whiskey a Bourbon and another a Scotch? It would be easy to answer that the grains they’re made from and where they’re made are what distinguishes one from the other. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate because that’s only half of it. Anyone can make whiskey from any grain anywhere. So what stops a Scotsman from making a Bourbon in Scotland? One word: laws.

Legal definitions give us consistent framework and are what make each whiskey the type it is.

Now, before we go any further we need to address an objection to what I just said. Some will point out that people were making and naming whiskeys before there were legal definitions. Yes, that is true, and we certainly pay homage to the pioneers of whiskey that helped shape what we have today. For example, it’s because of the people who were already making “Bourbon” that we have what is legally defined as Bourbon today. But that’s history, literally. Today, you can’t make a whiskey from whatever you want and call it anything you like. Whiskey now has rules to follow.

Learning those rules will help you to understand what’s in your bottle. It’s whiskey’s laws and regulations that stipulate what whiskey can be made from, how it’s made, where it’s made, and ultimately what it’s called. Each whiskey producer has to follow a set framework as outlined by law.

How does that benefit you?

If you know the laws, you can then work backwards and know loads about your whiskey, even if it's your first time seeing the bottle. You’ll be able to start with what the whiskey is called, then automatically know where it was made, how it was made, and what it was made from. You’ll not only look like an expert, but you really will know what you’re talking about.

Where do you go to learn about whiskey laws?

All the law books and regulations for every country are easily found online. If you’re a weirdo like me, you enjoy scouring chapter four of the T.T.B. manual and meticulously picking apart every definition of American whiskey. If you’re like most people, though, that sounds terrible. Fortunately for you there’s a fun second option! Click here and sign up to get the Whisk(e)y Wednesday Newsletter sent to your inbox. Then, receive fun and informative cliff notes on whiskey laws as we release the other parts of this series.

I’ll dig through all the laws for you, condensing them down to the most important and helpful bits, and then deliver them in an entertaining and useful way. So sign up here and don’t miss out.

That’s it for this week. The next installment in this series will give you an overview of world whiskey laws, and tips for keeping them straight.

— Zac Smith

P.S. If you know of a friend who’s interested in whiskey, share this series with them. Understanding whiskey law is a great first step to understand whiskey.