A bartender pours Jack Daniel' s whiskey at the liquor maker's official bar, "Jack Daniel's Lynchburg Barrel House" during a press preview in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The bar will open in Ginza temporarily from Jan 24 to Mar.7. Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg

Ilya Khrennikov and Duane Stanford Moscow

US BOURBON whiskeys Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam have been criticised by Russian consumer-safety officials, adding to mounting scrutiny of American brands in the country.

Traces of benzyl benzoate, a compound used in insect repellents, had been found in Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, the Rospotrebnadzor consumer agency said on its website.

The offending batches, found in Russia’s Sverdlovsk region, would be barred from sale, Interfax reported, citing Rospotrebnadzor head Anna Popova. Regulators also said Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam whiskeys violated rules by not being labelled properly.

Last week, Rospotrebnadzor shut down four McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow, including the largest and oldest one in the country, after a probe into ingredients and wastewater.

But authorities were not planning to close down the entire McDonald’s chain in the country, the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich as saying on Saturday.

The move to close four restaurants at once raised concerns about political motivations, said Gene Grabowski, a senior strategist for Washington-based public relations firm Levick, who has handled crisis management for food safety.

The US and EU imposed sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March, leading to escalating tensions.

President Vladimir Putin retaliated this month with a ban on $9.5 billion (R101bn) worth of imports, affecting a range of food items from countries that imposed sanctions. It is the worst stand-off between Russia and the West since the Cold War ended in 1991.

Brown-Forman, the Kentucky-based company that makes Jack Daniel’s, said it had not been contacted by any Russian agencies about the allegations.

“We have been selling Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey in Russia for 15 years and have been in compliance with all regulatory and labelling requirements throughout this period of time,” Brown-Forman said.

“Regarding Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, we have checked our records for product shipped to Russia and vehemently deny the presence of harmful substances in any of our products.”

Beam Suntory, the Illinois-based maker of Jim Beam, said it was investigating the matter.

“We comply with the label requirements wherever we operate, so our local team is seeking clarification from the relevant agency to resolve this matter,” the company said.

The Sverdlovsk region is a large industrial centre in the Ural mountains, about a two-hour flight from Moscow. Its main city, Yekaterinburg, is the fourth largest in Russia.

Coca-Cola Hellenic distributes Jack Daniel’s in Russia. A US spokesman for Coca-Cola did not have an immediate comment. – Bloomberg