How to Exploit US Whisky Regulations

by Oliver Klimek on November 4, 2010

I have to tell you a secret: I am a masochist. Sometimes I just can’t resist the urge to read whisky regulations.

In the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau belonging to the US treasury I found this interesting passage:

§ 5.21 Application of standards.

[...] (1)(i) ‘‘Bourbon whisky’’, ‘‘rye whisky’’, ‘‘wheat whisky’’, ‘‘malt whisky’’, or ‘‘rye malt whisky’’ is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.

Apart from the fact that this document uses the British “Whisky” spelling instead of the American “Whiskey”, this passage has a pretty devious implication.

In the US you can call malt whisky what would have to be called grain whisky in the UK if the malt content is above 51%, or paraphrased: A US single malt does not have to be made from 100% malted barley!

By the way, the term “single” relating to the production in a single distillery is not covered by the US whisky regulations. It is just a word that you may or may not put on your whisky bottle.

Why am I telling you this? With the current wave of American craft distillers, there are a lot of single malts produced now in the United States. I am convinced that all of them distill Scotch-like single malts. But I fear that sooner or later someone will start to replace part of the malted barley by cheaper grains to increase profitability. And because they don’t have to tell us it will still be perfectly legal US single malt whisky.

This sounds quite spooky, so perhaps the honest US single malt producers should team up and try to work towards a change of legislation. Because the term “Single Malt” has been defined very restrictivley in the Scotch Whisky regulations and most single malt is from Scotland, international customers will expect it to be made from 100% malted barley.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Steffen Bräuner November 4, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Every country (or continents have their own rules). There’s no age requirements for american whisk(e)y just to take one example. Bourbon got a requirement to be aged on wood, but no set time length. It could be 10 minutes theoretically. Corn Whiskey is something we would describe as newmake

Right next to me I got a bottle of Old Potrero and the label readsd : Old Potrero Single Malt Whiskey – A distilled spirit produced from rye malt mash, aged two years in new and used uncharred oak barrels-

I just think we have to accept the fact that USA is not Scotland and they have different standards for the definition of whiskey, whisky, bourbon and rye. And they are not neceserarely worse or better than scottish standards, which can be questionable at some points

Steffen

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Oliver Klimek November 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I partly agree, but it is important that the customers know the differences. And I doubt that many will care to find out.

And regarding “not necessarily worse or better”: Look at the definition of US blended whisky. It can contain up to 80 percent unaged neutral spirit, And that’s definitely a worse standard than for a Scotch blend. And then look at that “Spirit Whisky”: 5 percent whisky, 95% neutral alcohol. would you honestly call this whisky?

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