Not much to my suprise the recent news about Scottish Spirits Ltd. launching whisky in cans created quite a bit of publicity. Dozens of search engine queries found my article about the company, and on a slighty disturbing note, the first news reports popped up claiming that Scotch Whisky was to be sold in cans.
The core of the issue definitely is the company’s attempt to create the illusion that they are selling Scotch whisky. To a certain extent this is a story that can make you smile because of the chutzpah involved. But still this is an attempt to undermine the work of the serious whisky makers who produce the stuff we like so much.
The organization dealing with issues like this is the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) that most of you will be familiar with to some extent. Even though they at times tend to fulfill their task of protecting the heritage of Scotch whisky a little too enthusiastically (after all it’s an industry club), the minimum standards set by them are basically a good thing. I sent an email to David Williamson, the SWA media spokesman to ask him two fundamental questions that this issue has created:
Dear Mr. Williamson,
I am the owner of the whisky blog dramming.com. I suspect you have read this week’s news of a Panama company named Scottish Sprits Ltd. announcing the sale of whisky in cans in some American markets. Made curious by this I did some internet research and published an article on my blog about the company. [Link]
My findings lead to two questions about the company’s relation to Scotch Whisky which I think are also quite important for the SWA.
1. The focus of business seems to be the manufacturing and licencing of spirits made from “malt and alcohol” mixed together to be sold as “whisky”. I have little doubt that the offered cans will contain this type of spirit and no properly distilled whisky.
The release has created quite a bit of noise, as could be expected. And the cleverly named company has already managed to fool some commentators into believing that the cans contained Scotch whisky, like in this example:
I think I am not wrong in suspecting that this is not to the liking of the SWA. Hence my question:
Does the SWA possess the power to fight against bogus products that may create the illusion of being Scotch Whisky even if they might meet the labelling requirements of the countries where they are manufactured and/or sold?
2. On their website the company claims to sell Scotch whisky in bulk. It also shows a warehouse with bourbon casks and a filling plant. In a response to last year’s issue about the miseading advertising of Scotish Spirits Ltd. the SWA stated they had no evidence of such a facility in Scotland being operated by the company.
Also the press release of Scotish Spirits Ltd. about their expansion to India from December 2010 explixitly mentions Scotch Whisky:
“Scottish Spirits Ltd extended its operation in India in the name of Scottish Spirits PVT. Scottish Spirits PVT is the sole INDIAN importer for Scottish Spirits LTD, which specializes in manufacturing and distributing Scotch whisky worldwide.
The full Scotch whisky product line consists of 18 Scotch whisky brands bottled in 180 ml, 750 ml and litre at 43% volumes.”
My question: Does the SWA have the power to demand full disclosure of sources if companies verbally claim to sell Scotch Whisky on websites or press releases?
I would greatly appreciate an official response by the SWA to my questions which I would also intend to publish on my blog.
Mr. Williamson was kind enough to reply the same day.
Dear Mr Klimek
Many thanks for your email of 20 January.
The international legal protection of Scotch Whisky from any form of unfair competition is the SWA’s top priority.
Scotch Whisky is strictly defined in law and recognised under EU and WTO rules as a geographical indication of origin. In protecting the category worldwide, our policy has to be one of zero tolerance. Wherever we find an imitation on sale, we will seek to use local enforcement mechanisms to have the product removed from the market. This aims to protect Scotch Whisky and ensure consumers are not misled by any products that are, for example, ‘passed off’ as Scotch Whisky when they are not.
In relation to the Panamanian company in question, we are aware of its internet statements and these do give rise to serious concerns. Turning to the specific product you mention, its label appears to breach the presentation and labelling rules set out in the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009. We are concerned that consumers may be confused whether or not the product is a genuine Scotch Whisky and we are examining the matter further.
I hope this is helpful.
Public Affairs Manager
Government & Consumer Affairs
Scotch Whisky Association
20 Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 8HF, United Kingdom
Unfortunately the response did not directly address my two questions. But it seems pretty obvious that it is an implicit “no” both times. In countries that have adopted the SWA definitions of Scotch whisky the Association is quickly at hand when they suspect whisky producers to break the rules. But it is a toothless tiger when countries are concerned that have less restrictive rules. And it looks like you can claim just about anything in a press release or on your website as long as do you don’t engage in any physical transactions.