Scotch Whisky has long had a certain cachet for the more sophisticated consumer, however, this means that it can be tempting for producers to use a variety of descriptions for their products which can lead to confusion. As a result, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is currently consulting on its proposed Scotch Whisky Regulations 2008.

Existing legislation gives some protection to the "Scotch Whisky" denomination but DEFRA is concerned that, apart from the basic definition of Scotch Whisky in the existing legislation, there is considerable scope for confusion by the use of different categories of whisky and regional descriptions.

The consultation paper (please click here to view the paper) sets 22 different questions seeking detailed responses in relation to definitions of the different types of Scotch Whisky, labelling requirements and the prohibition of maturing Scotch Whisky abroad.

The consultation paper and draft regulations propose defining Scotch Whisky in 5 categories:

  • Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Single Grain Scotch Whisky
  • Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
  • Blended Scotch Whisky

DEFRA has proposals as to how it will wish to define each category and is seeking to distinguish between single whiskies and blends which are made up of a number of different single whiskies.

Scotch Whisky is recognised as a geographical indication at EU level but DEFRA also proposes to give specific protection to locality and regional names. These are:

  • Highland
  • Lowland
  • Speyside
  • Campbeltown
  • Islay

The proposal is that these names could only be used for whiskies distilled in those locations as DEFRA is concerned to stop some practices which it views as confusing, for example using descriptions such as "Speyside Cask Finish" in relation to whiskies distilled elsewhere. At present a number of trade marks exist where a regional geographical name forms part of a product name or part of an existing company name and DEFRA's proposal to deal with this is to exempt some trade marks which are already registered before any new law comes into effect. Brand owners, take note!

The ingenuity of label designers who are able to create the impression that a bottle contains Scotch Whisky is also recognised as part of the consultation and the proposed legislation would make it unlawful to label or market any drink which is not Scotch Whisky under a label designating it as Scotch Whisky or which uses words or pictures which might suggest that such a product is Scotch Whisky.

Over 100 organisations have already been invited to respond to the consultation and, if you wish to do so as well, the closing date for responses is 25th March 2008 with the intention that most of the new regulations will come into force in June this year.