March 19, 2008

New Scotch Rules on the Horizon

big_scotch_glass.jpgFor a long time, Scotch was a mythical and confusing beast to us. It seemed like something that was only drunk by railroad barons and other people who wore monocles. After putting some effort into it, and the tutelage of some friends, we were slowly able to piece things together, recognize flavors by region, and lose the intimidation factor that had kept us away from the drink in the first place.

We just received an email press release saying our comfort zone could change, due to some new rules being cooked up by the British government and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). We're drinking generalists here, not Scotch specialists, but even we can see a lot of the new rules could confuse issues and make it even harder for neophytes to understand what they're buying and ensure the high quality they might expect.

...some feel it's a smokescreen to further enhance the commercial interests of a self-regulated industry. "New rules are to strengthen existing laws, protecting whisky regions, targeting counterfeiters, and protecting consumers" says Bruichladdich's MD Mark Reynier. "Some are good rules, others more disingenuous; consumers are to be protected from counterfeiters only so they can be ripped off by the industry instead.
Strong words. But the item that really caught our eye was here:
(Under the new rules) Cardhu 'blended malt' could look exactly the same as the highly successful Cardhu 'Single Malt' (400,000 cases) and yet it could theoretically be 99% of unknown, lesser, single malts of a completely different even inferior style or flavour.
Read the full press release below.

Recipe for Confusion

Controversial new laws will have profound effect on the future of Scotch whisky.

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) are preparing far-reaching new regulations. The stated aim is to protect Scotch and consumers. But some feel it's a smokescreen to further enhance the commercial interests of a self-regulated industry. "New rules are to strengthen existing laws, protecting whisky regions, targeting counterfeiters, and protecting consumers" says Bruichladdich's MD Mark Reynier. "Some are good rules, others more disingenuous; consumers are to be protected from counterfeiters only so they can be ripped off by the industry instead.

The irreconcilable pressures of finite whisky stocks and marketing muscle has frustrated large distillers' ability to grow brands - so they want to fiddle the rules.

Confusing new whisky categories, mixing up well-known existing terms, will drive a wedge between blended whisky at one end, and exclusive single malt at the other.

By pushing single malts up on a pedestal, a new category 'Blended Malt Scotch Whisky' (a bastardised term from 'blended whisky' and 'single malt') is to be made.

It's a charter for cheats and marketeers to exploit gullible consumers as 'Blended Malt' will be allowed to look almost identical to a Single Malt, even the same name.

Consumers misled in to thinking they are getting a distinctive whisky from a specific, famous distillery may find it could be a total malt cocktail from all over the place.

Clearly the new category should not in any way be allowed to carry the name or presentation of a distillery. It also needs a clearly distinctive title that cannot confuse."

For Editors:

Whisky Regulations Consultation: http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodrin/index.htm

The consultation ends on 31st March for implementation in June 2008

DEFRA say: "The industry is highly concentrated with the top 6 companies accounting for 85% of the distilling capacity and case sales."

In 2004 Diageo were prevented by political pressure from marketing a blended malt (or pure malt) made up of several different whiskies in an identical presentation to Cardhu single malt. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3546321.stm

New Regulation 10 (2) paraphrased:
"the name of a distillery must not appear on any labelling or packaging of any blended malt...unless...a Scotch whisky that has been distilled at the named distillery has been included in the blend making up the final whisky."

New regulation 10 (5) paraphrased:
A name that is similar to any name of any distillery in Scotland must not appear on any single malt scotch whisky if that name creates confusion on the part of the public as to where the whisky was distilled. So OK for a "blended malt" to confuse.

Cardhu 'blended malt' could look exactly the same as the highly successful Cardhu 'Single Malt' (400,000 cases) and yet it could theoretically be 99% of unknown, lesser, single malts of a completely different even inferior style or flavour.

"Monkey Shoulder" is a 'blended malt' and correctly makes no claim to a specific distillery, geographical location, or existing single malt brand, or historic identity.

SWA members pay a membership according to the amount of the industry that they control. The SWA represent 95% of the industry capacity. 60% is controlled by just two companies - Diageo and Pernod Ricard. The executive board is made up of the member companies' MDs and CEOs. The current chairman is the CEO of Diageo.

Read More in: Liquor News | Scotch

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Posted by Jake Jamieson at March 19, 2008 12:20 PM
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