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Glann Ar Mor – Or What’s The Point Of PGI? — Dramming
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Glann Ar Mor – Or What’s The Point Of PGI?

by Oliver Klimek on August 6, 2015

It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for the Glann ar Mor distillery in Brittany. In early July they announced that the distillery will close for good on 15th August because of the impending PGI status for “Whisky Breton”. Today the news is out that the distillery will not close because of a likely agreement with the regulators. 

To recapituale, the PGI regulations in discussion would have required any whisky from Brittany to be distilled from malted barley only, and apparently also the use of pot stills would have been disallowed. It looks as if the announcement of the distillery to shut down their business was a wake up call for the officials at the French INAO (Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité) who are responsible for granting the PGI status. According to Martine and Jean Donnay, the founders of Glann ar Mor, this body had been completely unresponsive so far.

Ironically, Glann ar Mor was one of the leading supporters of the PGI application in 2009. But now that the djinni is out of the bottle, it seems to be difficult to control. Anyway, this is of course very good news. It would have been sad to see a distillery go just because of regulation woes. And Glann ar Mor makes excellent whisky.

But it needs to be asked if applying for a PGI staus was a clever move in the first place. The idea certainly was to have a status similar to cognac or champagne which are very tightly regulated to guarantee the uniqueness of the products by keeping up the tradition of production. Both cognac and champagne have strict rules for grape varieties, geography and production methods that tie them to the regions where they have been historically made.

In the EU Regulation 1151/2012 (PDF) the PGI denomination

“identifies a product […] whose given quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.”

Now the “Whisky Breton” PGI application was from 2009, but also back then the requirement was essentially the same.

I find it difficult to attribute a specific Breton element to whisky from Brittany. Granted, Eddu uses buckwheat which is also traditionally used for the galettes, the savoury cousins of the famous crepes. But other than that?

The “tradition” of whisky distillation in Brittany is only a couple of decades old. A wide variety of styles is produced, which stands in harsh contrast to other PGI foods that are very narrowly defined and often have a history counted in centuries. And it was exactly the threat of a narrow definition that made Glann ar Mor decide to close down originally. Pièce de résistance was their rye single malt, by the way. On the other hand their excellent peated Kornog bottlings can be confused with Islay whisky, both in style and quality.

It remains to be seen how the regulations for Breton whisky will eventually turn out. But if it will be “any style goes”, it would not be much more than a “Made in Britanny” label. This would certainly help in marketing, but the original PGI concept of protecting a culinary tradition would be watered down. But then again, there isn’t really much of a tradition to speak of anyway.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

kallaskander August 6, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Hi there,

it is strange what was going on in Britany.

I wonder what would happen if someone here in Germany had the same idea.

I mean there is only one distiller with a German whisky making tradtion to speak of so one would expect that a definition of what German whisky and its tradition is should concentrate on the Nürnberg erea.

Defining Geman whisky would be a merry go round with all the German distillers and their striving for uniqueness. There is just no defined German whisky style to speak of and no convention among the distillers how to make it- not in what to use not in how to make not in how to mature and not in a certain only German style if you get my meaning. And there is no agreement on how it should taste or what it should be.

So I keep asking myself what if…

Besides from that, defining a local product in a way that one of the leading local producers and pioneer of such a product is defined out of existence is something that can only happen in our oh so modern times.

Greetings
kallaskander

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Jeff August 6, 2015 at 8:50 pm

Hell, Whisky Advocate is asking “does it really have to be oak”?(http://whiskyadvocate.com/2015/07/24/does-it-really-have-to-be-oak/) If it’s the real question anyway, why not just ask “does it really have to be whisky”? After all, it’s not really about keeping with “time-honoured traditions” or, heavens-to-betsy, “smothering innovation” in any case, but just making sure that no one gets in the way of profits or people’s shortcuts to them. It’s a pattern we’ve seen before and, yes, you’ll see this material again – in many forms.

And I’d still like to see someone make the argument that NAS makes sense (outside of being a convenient money grab).

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Ádám Oláh August 17, 2015 at 6:28 pm

I don’t know about foods, but many European spirit drinks PGIs aren’t defined narrowly at all – for all their uniqueness, they often aren’t much more than “made in XY”, just as you’ve suggested. Irish whisky, for example, must be made so it meets the general EU-requirements of whisky, and that’s it. Any European whisky could be Irish whisky as long as it was made in Ireland, so the uniqueness of Irish whisky is up to the distillers.

As another, more remote example, fruit spirit PGIs in general are so vague that I’d dare anyone to tell these apart with any success on a blind tasting. Even regional fruit spirits from specified fruit varieties can be so freestlye that there is hardly any way to certainly tell if a plum spirit is szatmári szilvapálinka, sliwovitz del Trentino, Schwarzwälder Zwetschgenwasser, or any of the others. And I’m pretty sure the same goes with several other spirits categories’ PGIs, too.

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