Compass Box is Leading the Fight for Transparency in Scotch Labels

In February 2016, Compass Box launched their Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign to lobby for a change in the European Union and UK regulations to give producers the option to disclose the age of the components of a whisky. “We wholeheartedly support the transparency campaign,” says Ben Ellefsen. “We published a blog post and sent out a press release from Boutique-y Whisky. It was a large part of the reason we started putting age statements on our whiskies.”

“I think it’s a crying shame that we’re not allowed to tell consumers the full extent of what they’re actually drinking,” says Ellefsen, and it’s a relative point, as he is putting together the final touches to their latest liquid masterpiece, the Half Century Blend, which needs no introduction. “The proposal that John’s put forward to create a list of ingredients together with the proportions is absolutely watertight. I can’t think of any reason for any sane person objecting to that! It’s allowing blenders to disclose, in the context of full transparency, full listings and proportions of all the ingredients of what’s in their blend. I’ll go further; I think it’s absolutely criminal that we would be prosecuted for telling people more information. I think it’s utterly ridiculous.”

John Glaser described the purpose of his campaign. “First, let me clarify, we’re not at loggerheads with the Scotch Whisky Association [SWA] so much as we’re at loggerheads with the big industry players,” he states. “This transparency initiative is about getting the industry to recognize there is a law about Scotch whisky that no longer serves its original purpose. The SWA serves the bidding of its members and that’s why the SWA just won’t act. It needs to be changed, or we need to agree to a legal workaround.” The campaign gathered much support from consumers and small and medium-sized companies but, critically, no Goliath lent their weight. Eventually, Glaser got his workaround without change to the existing law: Compass Box and other Scotch whisky producers can now reveal details about their constituent whiskies to consumers who inquire. All you have to do is ask.

More From Dispatches

French Whisky Finds Its Footing

France is probing the question of terroir and provenance as its distillers turn out excellent whisky, from Alsace to the Alps.