Quinoa Whiskey Banks on a Looser Definition of 'Grains'
The simplest way to categorize different types of spirits is through the primary ingredients used to make them, and by law in the U.S., whiskey has to be made from “grains” — a term that has traditionally meant barley, corn, rye, and wheat. But as NPR’s The Salt recently pointed out, those rules could soon change, meaning grains like quinoa that are already popular on store shelves could soon have their whiskey moment as well.
In November, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) proposed a change that could significantly affect what can and can’t be called whiskey as part of a recommended update on labeling for alcoholic beverages. “TTB also proposes to add a definition of ‘grain,’ which would define the term to include cereal grains as well as the seeds of the pseudocereal grains: amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa,” the document states. “TTB has received a number of applications for labels for products using pseudocereals, and TTB also notes that the FDA has proposed draft guidance allowing the seeds of pseudocereals to be identified as ‘whole grains’ on labels.” Since whiskey must be made from “grains,” creating a broader definition of this word could potentially lead to a whole new era of “whiskey” labeled products.
Though the proposed TTB changes are currently in the public comment period until March — at which point the TTB will determine whether to continue moving forward with the broader definition or not — some brands have already been given the go-ahead to call these kinds of products “whiskey.” For instance, Corsair Distillery in Nashville currently makes a “quinoa whiskey” produced from 20 percent quinoa and 80 percent barley.
“If I'm making a painting, I want to have as many colors in my palate that I can paint with,” Corsair founder Darek Bell told NPR. “So as I'm making these whiskeys going forward, maybe it's just a small touch of oatmeal that adds a little more to the body of the whiskey, or just a little bit of quinoa that adds something different.” Plus simply being able to call something “quinoa whiskey” adds a bit of color of its own.