Monday, April 16, 2012
You Say Potato, I Say...Whiskey?
A few weeks ago, I saw an inquiry about a potato whiskey being made by a Colorado microdistillery. I assumed that the person asking the question was just using the term "whiskey" as shorthand because there could not legally be a potato whiskey.
Under the federal regulations governing spirits, whiskey must be made from "grain." Now, it's not totally clear what "grain" means under the law (more on that tomorrow), but I sure as hell know what it doesn't mean: potatoes.
But lo an behold, I Googled around and found a Colorado liquor store selling potato whiskey, and I found a Certificate of Label Approval from the TTB (Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) for 303 Whiskey which says right on the label "Distilled from Potatoes."
How did this happen? You may recall a few years ago, the Scotch Whisky Association had a fit when India tried to export a sugar-based "whiskey" to the EU. It was a major controversy and the SWA eventually won, but here in the States, we just let potato whiskey go?
Now obviously, this is not the world's biggest issue. No one is being deceived, since the label says very clearly that the product is whiskey distilled from potatoes, but if we are going to go to the trouble of having legal definitions, shouldn't we apply them consistently? Otherwise, what's the point? There is enough confusion out there about terms like "whiskey" and "bourbon" without further confusing them by stretching those definitions.
Now, unlike Scotland, where certain spirits are simply not permitted to be produced, in the US you can make almost anything, but you have to label it correctly. Whatever this stuff is (aged vodka? potato spirit? spud-shine?), it ain't whiskey.
Tomorrow: What is a "grain" anyway?