UK: Make Mine A Double! Government Increases Protection For Scotch Whisky With New Scottish Whisky Regulations

Last Updated: 4 February 2010
Article by Paul Harris, Alex Carter-Silk and Suzy Schmitz

The Scottish Whisky Regulations 2009 No. 2890 (the 2009 Regulations) came into force on 23 November 2009, offering manufacturers of genuine Scotch whisky new protection against whisky producers who seek to trade on the name and reputation of authentic Scotch whiskies. 

  • Historically, 'Scotch Whisky' has qualified as a protected geographical indication under European law and so its use as a product name has been regulated.  The new UK Regulations give Scotch Whisky an extra measure of protection.
  • Manufacturers must now comply with new rules relating to the production, bottling and labelling of whisky.
  • This change in law is an indication that Parliament will take steps to protect speciality UK goods.

The 2009 Regulations apply to the production, bottling and labelling of whisky.  Key provisions are:

  • The term "Pure Malt" is banned, as is the export of Single Malt and the exporting of Scotch whisky in wooden casks and containers;
  • A distillery name may not be used as a brand name on any Scotch whisky which has not been wholly distilled in the named distillery;
  • Scotch whisky must fall within one of five categories of compulsory sales terms (single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain or blended) which must appear clearly and prominently on all labels;
  • A whisky must not be labelled, packaged, advertised or promoted in a way that includes the name of a protected locality or region unless it has been distilled in that locality or region;
  • Anything sold as 'Scotch whisky' must be wholly matured in Scotland;
  • Manufacturers must comply with clear rules on the use of age statements on packaging; and
  • HM Customs & Excise is designated as the verification authority for Scotch whisky.

Scotch whisky has been protected in some form by UK legislation since 1933, most recently under the Scotch Whisky Act 1998 c.22 which defines how Scotch whisky must be made.  Additional protection is provided by the Regulations (EC) No 110/2008 (the 2008 Regulations) under which Scotch whisky is protected as a geographical indicator.  Whilst the 2008 Regulations stipulate the definition, description, presentation and labelling of Scotch whisky, they also apply to a number of different spirits protected as geographical indicators, including Cognac.  The 2008 Regulations are somewhat generic and, as such, they fail to offer specific protection to Scotch whisky. 

The 2009 Regulations comprehensively clarify the rules surrounding Scotch Whisky specifically.  Although a UK statute, the impact of the Regulations is likely to be more far-reaching as many countries, including the United States, have a formal definition of 'Scotch whisky' which directly references the definition afforded to Scotch whisky under UK law. 

The 2009 Regulations will be warmly welcomed by the Scotch Whisky industry, which is Scotland's biggest export and thought to be worth around £3bn.  The Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy, stated,

"It is vital that we protect our key industries.  We cannot allow others to trade off our good name and to pass off inferior whisky as being produced in Scotland.  These regulations will help protect whisky customers across the globe."

The 2009 Regulations represent an interesting legislative step by Parliament, even for non-Scotch Whisky drinkers.  By enacting an additional layer of protection beyond that offered by the European regime, Parliament has shown a willingness to protect UK brands.  This development is good news for other speciality producers hoping to encourage the UK Government to enact other legislation that will make the UK the place for brands to develop. 

So, dare we say that these Regulations give Scotch whisky producers a "measure" of protection equal to a good stiff two fingers' worth?

The 2009 Regulations may accessed here:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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