Archive for April, 2008

SWA responds to “Blended Malt” criticism

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

I received this on Monday. It’s the Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA’s) response to the criticism that is going around regarding the proposed new definitions of whisky, including the controversial “Blended Malt”. It’s only fair to show both sides of this story. Now that we have SWA’s attention, feel free to comment. (Be sure to also read my “Blended Malt” posting and comments from last week.)

Dear John

We read with interest your recent blog on the draft Scotch Whisky Regulations and thought it might be of interest to your readers if we set out again why the term ‘Blended Malt Scotch Whisky’ has been proposed by the industry/UK Government.   We should also not forget that a much wider package of proposals are being consulted on and I’ve highlighted some of the key provisions below.

Choice of the term ‘Blended Malt Scotch Whisky’

There was lengthy industry discussion around the choice of the term and, in the end, it was chosen because the industry working group/SWA members believe it is the only description that accurately describes what the product is, in a manner which is comprehensible to consumers worldwide, both to the enthusiast but also the millions who enjoy the product but may know little about the category.  

Consumers understand that ‘blending means mixing’ and blending is generally understood as meaning ‘more than one’.  A number of companies have of course already changed their labels to use the description ‘Blended Malt Scotch Whisky’ and, encouragingly, there is no evidence to indicate any consumer confusion or resistance to the description.   Any legislation introduced in the UK must of course also comply with EU law and under European legislation any combination of malt whiskies is defined as a ‘blend’.

We accept entirely the point you make on education.  The SWA has always said that, whatever terms are introduced, the industry will need to take the opportunity to grow awareness and understanding of all the categories.  We will be doing just that in the coming months.  The aim is to ensure that everyone receives clear, consistent, and accurate information about what they are buying.  (There is clearly little confusion about the term amongst whisky enthusiasts because, although some may not like the term, they understand what it means.)   

It is also important to note that some of those in the trade who have voiced objections have their own narrow interests to promote.  One objector, for example, recently advised the SWA that he was against the new terminology because he was currently selling a ‘Malt Scotch Whisky”, which sometimes contains a Single Malt, ‘but sometimes contained a blend of malts’. In other words, he was using the same ‘Malt Scotch Whisky’ label for different products. 

Alternative Terms

A broad range of alternative terms were considered, for example ‘Malt Scotch Whisky’ and ‘Vatted Malt Scotch Whisky’.   The term ‘Malt Scotch Whisky’ was, however, rejected because it was felt that it does not distinguish a blend of malts from Single Malt Scotch Whisky, as Single Malt Scotch Whiskies are Malt Scotch Whiskies.  The average consumer is unlikely to know whether a ‘Malt Scotch Whisky’ is a Single Malt or a blend of malts from different distilleries.    At the same time, the term Vatted Malt’ has almost solely been used within the trade and it is significant that hardly any labels at all have ever featured that description.  Again, it was agreed the term would not be understood by the vast majority of consumers worldwide.

Blended Malts have, in the past, been sold under a variety of names, including ‘Pure Malt’.  The industry supports the proposed ban on the use of that term.  Firstly, we believe it has been used by some to disguise the fact that the products in question are Blended Malts’, but there has also been confusion caused by the fact that the term Pure Malt’ has been used on both Blended Malts and Single Malts.  This has also resulted in confusion as to whether Pure Malt and Single Malt were the same, and some consumers believe Pure Malt is a superior category to Single Malt as a result of the use of the word ‘Pure’.  

Clarity for consumers as to what each category of Scotch Whisky is will allow the industry to promote each category better by explaining its merits.  The SWA would not accept recent comments by some that the word Blend’ is in someway derogatory.

Consultation on the proposals

There has been a wide and detailed consultation over the last four years.  The proposals were initially drawn up by an industry working group – with a cross section of producers represented – in 2004.  Each company involved has interests in each category and was able to bring a broad perspective to the debate.  The proposals were then considered and endorsed unanimously by the SWA Council, and an industry seminar held for members at which the proposals were explained, and questions could be asked.  

Subsequently, in June 2005, the SWA issued a detailed consultation pack to nearly 90 non-member companies and other organisations with an interest in the Scotch Whisky trade.   The proposals were then submitted to Government.   Since then, they have been tested and scrutinised by government in Edinburgh and London, with a three month public consultation launched by the UK Government in December 2007.  There have therefore been repeated opportunities for stakeholders to make their views on the proposals known. 

The proposals are aimed at trying to protect consumers and to promote and protect the interests of the industry as a whole, covering both large and small companies, and all types of Scotch Whisky whether blends or singles.  Some recent statements suggesting otherwise are, frankly, disingenuous.  It is not in anyone’s interests for consumers to be confused about what they are buying.  

The wider package of proposals

Whilst there has been focus on ‘Blended Malt’, the category terms are a small part of a much wider and very important set of proposals.  We should not lose sight of the fact that the legislation will introduce much needed improvements in the protection of Scotch Whisky and consumers.   Other welcome provisions in the draft legislation include:

  • an explicit statement that Scotch Whisky must be wholly matured in Scotland.
  • protection for the five regional names traditionally associated with Scotch Whisky production – Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown.
  • provisions preventing the use of a distillery name as a brand name on any Scotch Whisky which has not been wholly distilled in the named distillery.
  • rules to prevent the misleading labelling of a Single Malt to suggest it comes from a distillery other than the true one.
  • ban on use of the term ‘Pure Malt’.
  • a requirement that Single Malts are bottled only in Scotland to prevent adulterated product.
  • clarity on the use of age statements, including requiring the date of bottling, or the actual age, to be stated in addition to the distillation date.

I hope this is helpful and, as always, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Best regards


David Williamson
Public Affairs Manager
Government & Consumer Affairs
Scotch Whisky Association
20 Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 8HF, United Kingdom

t:  (+44) 0131 222 9230
m: (+44) 07730 496 151
f:  (+44) 0131 222 9237

History Channel’s Modern Marvels “Whiskey” Rebroadcast

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

For those of you who missed the show’s debut on St. Patrick’s Day, you get another chance to watch it on Saturday, April 26th, at 7:00 p.m. It’s a really nice show covering Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. They even cover the craft distilling movement. And yes, I’m in it too. I tell everybody about those mid to late morning whiskies, among other things.

Glenmorangie Distillery Manager to oversee Glenglassaugh

Monday, April 7th, 2008

The Scotsman reported today that Graham Eunson, whisky-maker for Glenmorangie, will be the distillery manager at Glenglassaugh. Glenglassaugh has been mothballed for more than 20 years but was sold by Edrington to a Dutch-based investment group who will begin making whisky again.

Graham was quoted in the Scotsman as saying: “During my career I have had to oversee the closures of both Scapa and Glendronach distilleries. So the opportunity to breathe life back into a mothballed distillery of such iconic status was one I couldn’t resist.”

He added: “Until now, I feel that I have very much been the custodian of existing brands. With Glenglassaugh, I have the unique opportunity to make my mark on the whisky industry with a new exciting product.”

No news yet regarding Graham’s replacement.

SWA: Court refuses Glen Breton trademark

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I just received this press release from the Scotch Whisky Association and wanted to pass it on to everyone. This battle has been going on for quite some time.

Monday 7 April 2008

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has welcomed a Canadian Federal Court decision to refuse to register the ‘Glen Breton’ trademark, for a single malt whisky produced in Canada.

The SWA had objected to the trademark arguing that use of the word ‘Glen’, which is widely used on Scotch Whisky, for whisky produced in Canada, was confusing and misleading to consumers.

Evidence filed by the SWA included over thirty instances of ‘Glen Breton’ being mis-described in Canada as ‘Scotch Whisky’, with examples of confusion found in retail outlets, newspaper articles, pricelists, menus and websites.

The Canadian Federal Court found that “the trade is confused” by the trademark, that ‘Glen Breton’ was often listed in price lists and menus as “single malt scotch” and that “the ultimate consumer who thought he or she was ordering a new Scottish single malt would never know that something else was served”.

WhiskyFest Chicago report: Tomatin breaks out

Monday, April 7th, 2008

WhiskyFest Chicago was this past Friday. One of the distilleries that impressed me was Tomatin.

Tomatin here in the U.S. has always been one of those quiet whiskies lurking in the background. If you were lucky to find a bottle, it would be the pleasant, but not overly inspiring, 12 year old.

That all changed the night of WhiskyFest, when the distillery brought two new line extensions for the U.S. (an 18 and 25 year old) along with a couple of vintage bottlings not available here in the U.S. tucked under the table.

After tasting them all, I felt that the sweet spot among the 12, 18 and 25 year old whiskies was the 18 year old. The 12 and 18 year old are finished in sherry casks, while the 25 is aged entirely in ex-bourbon wood. All three were nice (with the 25 showing a little wood). But, the balance of the wood, sherry, and spirit of the 18 was extraordinary.

The two vintages secretly poured (1976 and 1967) also did not disappoint. The ’76 was finished in sherry casks while the ’67 was pure ex-bourbon. Just like the three age-statement whiskies, I liked the balance and complexity that the sherry imparted to the 1976 vintage.

Fortunately for us, we can expect to see more of Tomatin (and its line extensions) in the future.

Friday’s Pan: Duncan Taylor (Cameronbridge) 28 year old

Friday, April 4th, 2008

 Yes, I know. March is over, and with it, “Friday’s Pans”. But I have one more pan before moving on to a happier review next Friday.

Duncan Taylor (distilled at Cameronbridge), Cask #3583, 28 year old, 54.4%, $125
Its best attributes are vanilla, toasted coconut, and tropical fruit. But the rest of this grain whisky is a bit of a disappointment. It is thin and, at times, harsh. A paint thinner component is evident (especially on the nose), along with more wood on the finish that this thin body can handle. Two Carsebridge grain Scotch whiskies from DT which I have tasted recently were much better—richer and creamier, and with more balance.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 73

Jack Daniel’s announces new Master Distiller

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

 This is just in to our office, via press release (below). Looks like they found their replacement for Jimmy Bedford. Master Distillers are starting to be younger than me. Pretty scary. If you’re heading to WhiskyFest Chicago on Friday, you’ll be able to meet him (as will I). 


Tennessean Becomes Only Seventh Master Distiller In History of Storied Company; Will Attend Chicago Whiskyfest on April 4 

LYNCHBURG (pop. 361), Tenn. (April 2, 2008) – The Jack Daniel Distillery announced today that Jeff Arnett has been named Master Distiller. 

Arnett, 41, is a native Tennessean and will become only the seventh Master Distiller in the company’s history.  He replaces Jimmy Bedford, who announced his retirement from the position last month.    

The Master Distiller oversees the entire whiskey-making process of milling, yeasting, fermentation, distillation, charcoal mellowing and maturation.      

“I fully understand the huge shoes that I’ll be stepping into and can’t begin to express my appreciation to those who have entrusted me with this position,” said Arnett.  “It’s been a privilege to work with Jimmy Bedford and learn the trade over the past several years.  I look forward to carrying on the Jack Daniel’s tradition and following Mr. Jack’s guiding words of ‘every day we make it, we’ll make it the best we can.'” 

Arnett began his career at the Jack Daniel Distillery seven years ago in quality control and overseeing Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel.  Since that time, he has worked in a variety of capacities

throughout the distillery, including warehousing, maturation, distillation, charcoal mellowing management, barrel quality and bottling, as well as being a member of the Master Tasters’ panel.

Prior to his work with Jack Daniel’s, he served as production manager and engineer in the food and beverage industry for 10 years. 

“We have every faith and confidence that Jeff is going to do an outstanding job as Master Distiller and carry on the long tradition of the master craftsmen who have made the world’s best whiskey for more than one hundred years,” said Tommy Beam, senior vice president and general manager of the Jack Daniel Distillery, Lem Motlow Prop.   

Arnett and his wife, Lori, live in Lynchburg with their two young children, Will and Elizabeth. 

My take on the whole “Blended Malt” debate

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

As many of you know, there’s a big debate going on right now about the proposed definition of what has, in the past, been called “vatted malts” (i.e., a marriage of single malt Scotch whiskies from two or more distilleries).  The category would now be called “Blended Malt.” It fits in between a single malt whisky (malt whisky from just one distillery) and a blended whisky (malt whisky from more than one distillery along with grain whisky).

I work with nearly all facets involved with whisky: producers (big and small), importers, wholesalers, retailers, bars, restaurants, trade groups, and the consumer. As an unbiased source, here are my thoughts on this issue. I will try to keep this as brief as possible.

Opponents to the new definition argue, among other things, that it tarnishes the highly-esteemed category of “single malt whisky” because most people will confuse “blended malt whisky” with ubiquitous “blended whisky.” I agree.

Some argue that the creation of a new Blended Malt category will be exploited by big whisky companies to fill in and expand this seldom-used category. Smaller producers also argue that the cost of changing labels, promotional materials, etc., will also be an undue burden for them.

I see where they are coming from, but I can also see a flip side.

In some ways, the new phrase Blended Malt whisky is actually logical in the context with Blended whisky and Single Malt whisky. I like that the same terminology is used. It’s easy to see (and logically understand) the transition from Single Malt whisky, to Blended Malt whisky (i.e. a blend of single malts) to Blended whisky (a blend of malt and grain whiskies). Everyone knows what the word “blend” means.

The phrase “vatted”, while all of us veterans know how this word has been used in the past and feel comfortable with it, isn’t inherently obvious how it fits in with the rest of the definitions. To me, it’s no less confusing. What’s more important to me is that a blend of malts, regardless of what you call it, isn’t called the same name as a distillery. A Macallan vatted malt will only lead to confusion, so will a Macallan blended malt.

Regarding the possible “exploitation” of the new Blended Malt category by the big boys, I don’t see it entirely as exploitation, but rather an opportunity to expand the Scotch whisky industry into an category that has been sadly ignored. I see this as a good thing for the producer and consumer.

What I really think the problem is, regardless of what categories and definitions are ultimately decided upon, is the the lack of global education supporting the category definitions.  The vast majority of people still don’t know what a blended scotch is, even though we drink millions of liters of the stuff every year. And they have no clue what a grain whisky is.

Instead of spending all this time and money pissing and moaning about what to call a category, let’s just agree on one already and join together in supporting a common cause to eradicate what I feel is the real problem here: ignorance and alienation. Without education, the fundamental problem with remain, regardless of what we end up calling a vatted malt.