*Scotch whisky proposals – Association puts its case*

News and announcements from the Whisky Magazine team
Sally Toms
News & Picture Editor
Posts: 224
Joined: Wed Jun 23, 2004 9:46 am

*Scotch whisky proposals – Association puts its case*

Postby Sally Toms » Mon May 09, 2005 4:50 pm

In an industry as passionate as ours, you expect strong views. The danger is that hasty judgements can be made when not in possession of all the facts, as has occurred on the proposed Scotch Whisky definitions and labelling rules. So what exactly is being considered and why?

The proposals emerged after 12 months of careful consideration by a Working Group of senior industry representatives from Allied Domecq, Chivas Brothers, Diageo, Glenmorangie, Morrison Bowmore, The Edrington Group, William Grant, and Whyte & Mackay.

They, in turn, consulted colleagues at home and overseas as the proposals were shaped, leading to the package securing unanimous support within the SWA Council, which represents the vast majority of distillers and brand owners. Far from a knee-jerk reaction, the proposals emanate from the most comprehensive consideration of what Scotch Whisky is since the 1909 Royal Commission. These proposals are intended for legislation not a Code of Practice.

Until now, category descriptions have been dictated by convention. This has led to a wide variety of descriptions being used on labels; with, for example, both Single Malts and Blended Malts described as Pure Malts.

To prevent consumers being confused, and provide clear information, it is proposed the different categories should be formally defined and that it should be compulsory to use the appropriate category name as the sales description on every bottle sold.

The categories being proposedare Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky and Blended Grain Scotch Whisky.

While the definitions themselves reflect traditional practice and are uncontroversial, there has been debate regarding the term Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.

Several alternatives were considered, with Vatted Malt the first possibility. However, although used in the trade, that description has seldom been used on labels – industry experience is that consumers don’t understand the term and find it unattractive due to its industrial connotations.

The term Pure Malt was also rejected. Some believe Pure Malt and Single Malt are the same thing; others that Pure Malt is a superior or separate category; and few appreciate that many Pure Malt brands have been blends of Malt Whiskies. Given this, it is proposed to ban the use of the description ‘Pure Malt’, in that combination, from labels.
Thus, after considerable discussion, consumer research, and soundings with distributors worldwide, it was agreed that Blended Malt Scotch Whisky best described the product.

We believe it is a pragmatic choice as on plain reading, without preconceived notions, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky clearly indicates to the consumer there is more than one Malt Whisky in the product. Blending is a well understood concept and the description is also compatible with EU law under which any combination of Malt Whiskies is already legally a ‘blend’.

Clearly, there is no point in requiring the category name to be used if it appears on packaging where it cannot be seen. Rules are therefore proposed to ensure the compulsory description appears prominently and consistently on packaging. Repeated use will bring clarity and help consumers identify the different categories.

While there has been an inevitable focus on the category names, it is also important to stress that a broad package of proposals is being brought forward, and brief details of which we give here.

Additional protection is proposed for traditional regional names, i.e. ‘Highland’, ‘Lowland’, ‘Speyside’, ‘Campbeltown’ and ‘Islay’. It is also proposed that a distillery name should not be used as a brand name on any Scotch Whisky which has not been wholly distilled in the named distillery. Consideration is, however, being given to protection of existing brands.

From the enquiries we receive, it is clear that action is also required to prevent misleading marketing of Single Malts. A provision has therefore been drafted to stop Single Malts being sold under labels which mislead as to where the Single Malt was distilled.

It is important to emphasise the proposals are now subject to wide-ranging consultation. In early March, we were greatly encouraged by the positive feedback received from SWA members at a special seminar attended by some 80 industry representatives from 17 companies. After further consultation with members, we will consult non-members, before taking matters forward with government.
These are far-reaching proposals, and while there may be debate over the term Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, SWA members believe that, when considered as a package, they offer the right blend for Scotch – working in the best interests of consumers and distillers.

Yours sincerely

Campbell Evans
Director of Government &
Consumer Affairs

Sally Toms
News & Picture Editor
Posts: 224
Joined: Wed Jun 23, 2004 9:46 am

Editor’s comment

Postby Sally Toms » Mon May 09, 2005 4:51 pm

While we greatly respect the Scotch Whisky Association and fully support much of what it is trying to do with these definitions, we still believe that the new definition for a mix of malts from different distilleries is wrong. We do not accept that we rushed to a view before we were in possession of all the facts and we have not moved at all from our original position. We have agreed to disagree. But we will be pressing the SWA to reconsider at every opportunity, and we are calling on readers to let us know your views.

Email dominic@whiskymag.com or post your comments here.

Deactivated Member

Postby Deactivated Member » Mon May 09, 2005 5:40 pm

Sometimes, the longer you think about something, the more divorced from reality you become. That is the only explanation I can think of for the SWA spending a year to come up with a classification that every whisky enthusiast on earth immediately recognized as stupid and confusing. Back to the drawing board, guys. The only thing worse than making a colossal mistake is refusing to admit you made a colossal mistake.

Triple Gold Member
Posts: 2724
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2003 2:01 am

Postby Admiral » Tue May 10, 2005 4:31 am


I've already said elsewhere on these forum pages that the SWA's proposals for classifications of whisky are badly flawed.

At its core, the new definitions do not clear up any confusion. To my mind, they only create confusion.

There are better solutions, better ideas, and more acceptable alternatives. Dave Broom and others have already voiced these. I implore the SWA to consider these and go back to the drawing board.

As Mr T says...it's okay to make a mistake, but to refuse to admit it in the face of overwhelming objection is a far more serious mistake.


Double Gold Member
Posts: 1254
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2001 2:01 am

Postby Iain » Tue May 10, 2005 12:20 pm

I hope folks don't take this personally, but I think the SWA has made the best decision available to them. Not badly flawed, mistaken or stupid and confusing at all :D

While working for a company promoting a (very good) vatted malt a few years back, I learned that the term "vatted malt" confused most folks (relatively few people are well-versed in the arcane language of whisky) and there was a dogged resistance to buying any whisky that was described as such.

And I'm sure it didn't help that in some places, people could buy a Diageo brand of blended Scotch called Vat 69!

Imho the name blended malt will sit more easily alongside single malt, and it will be easier for customers without a deep knowledge of Scotch whisky and its history to understand what they're being offered.

There, I've agreed with the SWA for once. And it didn't hurt (yet :oops: ).

Deactivated Member

Postby Deactivated Member » Tue May 10, 2005 4:25 pm

Au contraire, Iain, I'm very happy to see an opposing viewpoint on this subject--I had begun to think there wasn't one, and it's well to know otherwise.

I take the point on the term "vatted malt"--perhaps we who are enthusiasts are blind to the way that plays among the general public. But the term "blended malt" is just completely unsatisfactory. A blend is a blend, and a malt is a malt. If the average consumer doesn't understand "vatted malt" or "pure malt", will he plainly understand the difference between "blended Scotch whisky" and "blended malt Scotch whisky"? I don't think so, and feel that the word "blend" should be reserved for those whiskies that contain grain spirit (unless you want to change the former category to "blended malt and grain Scotch whisky"--and I don't think anyone would like that much, either). I'd have been happy with "all malt", which I think sits well semantically next to "single malt". Even "all-malt blend" (which I'd still object to as a misuse of the word "blend") would be less confusing.

In the end, whatever terminology is used, it will seem esoteric to the uneducated, so you might as well use terminology that makes sense to those who are enthusiasts and those who are aspiring to be enthusiasts. "Blended malt Scotch whisky" isn't it. It redefines the word "blend", which has had a set meaning for over a century.

Admittedly, whatever terminology is decided upon, we'll get used to it. And no matter what is decided upon, this forum will receive queries from newbies asking "What the hell does --- mean?" Maybe we'd all feel better if the SWA had just asked for some public input, instead of issuing a decree. They may have deliberated over this for a year, but from a consumer's standpoint, it feels arbitrary and capricious.

Gold Member
Posts: 648
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2004 6:25 pm

Postby Tom » Tue May 10, 2005 5:10 pm

Since WM asked for our opinion and we can make a small difference here, im completely with MrT and Admiral.
In my opnion the term "Vatted" should be officially introduced as it is already widely used by all whisky enthousiasts around the world.
And just so you know it, i will always keep using it.

Deactivated Member

Postby Deactivated Member » Tue May 10, 2005 10:02 pm

Just got back from the packy (that's a liquor store to most of you), where I was looking at Compass Box's labels. As you can see from the picture below, Asyla is plainly marked:

Grain & Malt
Blended Scotch Whisky

--the upper line being a bit smaller than the lower, but still quite clear. Their vatted malts are similarly marked:

Vatted Malt
Scotch Whisky

Wow. Simplicity itself, and plain as day. I propose that the SWA adopt Compass Box's labeling standards. And any bottler who is squeamish about the expression "vatted malt" can explain what it is elsewhere on the label.


Silver Member
Posts: 473
Joined: Fri Nov 24, 2000 2:01 am

Postby lexkraai » Wed May 11, 2005 8:02 am

Shock, horror, Iain, I'd never thought you'd stoop this low :wink:

OK, seriously, I can see the SWA's point in wanting to get rid of the term 'vatted malt' even though it's a term which has been used for a long time and is clearly defined among whisky enthusiasts. I take their point that's it not a term which appeals to the general public. But to replace it with the very confusing 'blended malt' while there is the perfectly logical and simple alternative 'malt', is something I don't get. What is simpler than labelling a whisky which is made from 100% malted barley as a 'malt whisky' and add the qualifier 'single' when all the malt whisky comes from one distillery? That reserves the term 'blended' for what it's been used for in the past, a mixture of malt and grain whisky, rather than introduce different types of blends.

My tuppence

Double Gold Member
Posts: 1254
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2001 2:01 am

Postby Iain » Wed May 11, 2005 1:01 pm

You are a beacon of reasonableness Lex :) , and that would be fine by me.

I can't speak for the SWA of course, but I guess that the problem might be -

"Malt whisky" is understood as the term for all whisky made of 100 pc malted barley. However, it is also used frequently (and carelessly, of course) in references to what is actually bottled single malt. The trick is to make it quite clear to the customer what is in the bottle - single malt, or blended/vatted malt. Blended malt seems a reasonable title, if vatted is not attractive to customers.

(It has the added advantage, I suspect, that it will boost the perceived importance of the "master blender" storyline for the big companies, as they continue to spend a fortune on promoting expensive "premium" and "super premium" blended Scotches, but that's getting into a whole new thread perhaps).

By the way, dropping the term "vatted" is not so revolutionary as some folks claim. Many other terms have been dropped over the years, when they became outmoded or confusing to customers. Until the mid- 20th century, for example, it was quite common to put the term "liqueur" on the label of a bottled Scotch, with the intended (if very fuzzy) meaning that the whisky within was old/smooth/mellow etc. But the term liqueur was eventually deemed to be too confusing as a description for a Scotch whisky, and is now restricted (in the whisky industry) for use as a description for what we recognise today as whisky liqueurs such as Drambuie etc.

And the term "vatted" has always caused confusion. The most famous "vatted" whisky was of course Usher's Old Vatted Glenlivet. And it was revealed as long ago as the 1880s that OVG was a blended Scotch, and not a vatted malt whisky (nor a blend of malt whiskies) at all!

Now, Lex - do you think the SWA might offer me a job? :wink:

Jeroen Kloppenburg
Silver Member
Posts: 402
Joined: Sun Aug 11, 2002 1:01 am

Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Wed May 11, 2005 2:35 pm

... it was quite common to put the term "liqueur" on the label of a bottled Scotch, with the intended (if very fuzzy) meaning that the whisky within was old/smooth/mellow etc. ...

Hmmm, I was always under the inpression this was used as they actually added stuff like herbs and sugar, honey etc to the whisky, hence adding the term liqueur.

Ofcourse I could have been assuming this very wrong all this time :\ Any info on sources explaining this Iain?

Double Gold Member
Posts: 1254
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2001 2:01 am

Postby Iain » Wed May 11, 2005 4:36 pm

It was not a universal but a common enough practice Jeroen. A quick trawl through some of the old whisky auction catalogues would provide plenty of examples - I think I have some in my attic so I'll go look and send on any references I can find.

There are examples in Jim Murray's book The Art of Whisky p24 (Bantaskin and Old Silent Malt Liqueur Highland Whiskies), p 53 (Royal Liqueur Whisky - and I notice that he states "the term liqueur whisky was used merely to imply that the whisky was of a high quality...") and p63 Mackay's Liqueur Whisky. I'm sure there are other examples to be found in illustrated whisky books, and on websites dealing with "vintage" bottles out there.

I believe the first Chivas Regal was labelled as a liqueur whisky.

Of course we still have whisky liqueurs, but the old-established but obsolete term "liqueur whisky" was eventually dropped on the grounds that it was misleading and confusing to the punters - a precedent for the SWA's action re "vatted malt" perhaps?

I have a dim memory that the disappearance of the term "liqueur whisky" was debated many years back on the Malts-L list.

Jeroen Kloppenburg
Silver Member
Posts: 402
Joined: Sun Aug 11, 2002 1:01 am

Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Wed May 11, 2005 5:56 pm

Aye, I'll dive into those archives then =) Thanks for the extra pointers and input Iain!

edit: Hmm, aside a "Glenfiddich Malt Whisky Liqueur" thread I'm unable to dig anything else up. But I'll look around in my own library, thanks once again :)

New member
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu May 12, 2005 5:31 pm

Postby Stuart1746 » Thu May 12, 2005 5:56 pm

This site has a few examples of so called Liqueur Scotch Whiskies


Gold Crown-Early 20th Century - Liqueur Scotch Whisky.

The Antiquary Liqueur Whisky - Corks branded "J & M Hardie, Edinburgh"

Ballantine's-30 year-old - Liqueur Blended Scotch Whisky.

Haig Gold Label-Circa 1940 - By Appointment to H M King George VI. Blended Liqueur Scotch Whisky

Locke's Liqueur Irish Whiskey - Bottled and distilled by Brusna Distillery

The Real Sandy MacDonald - Early 20th Century -Special Liqueur Scotch Whisky. Alexander & MacDonald Ltd., Leith. Pot Still Pure Malt Distilleries

Unfortunately just descriptions as it's a auction site.

Double Gold Member
Posts: 1254
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2001 2:01 am

Postby Iain » Fri May 13, 2005 12:00 pm

As you say Tom, the great thing is that no matter what the SWA decrees should go on the label, drinkers can choose to simply ignore them and continue to use the traditional terms they prefer.

Last time I heard Michael Moss lecture on the history of the whisky industry, he steadfastly avoided references to single malts as he preferred the old industry term "self whiskies".

Triple Gold Member
Posts: 2724
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2003 2:01 am

Postby Admiral » Mon May 16, 2005 10:30 am

drinkers can choose to simply ignore them and continue to use the traditional terms they prefer.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with this sentiment. What is the point of establishing such a set of standards if we are not obliged nor inclined to refer to them?


Bronze Member
Posts: 181
Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2004 7:51 pm

Postby JimHall » Mon May 16, 2005 12:53 pm

I too have to go against the popular opinion here.
I don't think that the changes are going to be so bad. I get tired of people who don't know what they are talking about using the term "pure Malt" as if it is some kind of superior product. So what is wrong with "blended malt".

I honestly believe that if things were diffrent (ie we already used these terms ) and we were about to change from them to "vatted malt" or "pure malt" then that would be causing confusion.

I have to agree with Ian in this case.

Double Gold Member
Posts: 1254
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2001 2:01 am

Postby Iain » Mon May 16, 2005 9:15 pm

Thanks Jim. I was starting to feel lonely :(

Admiral, the SWA clearly has its own motives, representing as it does the views and pursuing the objectives of the major whisky companies. The companies have apparently agreed to a set of standards for the whisky industry, and have volunteered to support and abide by them.

But we're (most of us?) drinkers, not Scotch whisky bottlers - we are surely free and independent spirits, with the right to disagree with a jumped up trade association!

And I believe there ARE independent spirits already at work on this forum, defying the SWA and its wishes re classifications.

eg, I can't find the thread now, but I remember being advised that there IS an Island category of single malts. This is apparently not a view shared by the SWA, according to the reference to "traditional regional names" in the press release at the top of this thread :wink: .

If I've got this right, the SWA will not recognise an official Island category, and the non-Islay island malts will be classified as "Highland".

Triple Gold Member
Posts: 2724
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2003 2:01 am

Postby Admiral » Mon May 16, 2005 10:37 pm


I hear what you're saying, and I agree that we of independent thought and attachment are free to pick and choose terminology as we see fit.

But wouldn't it be a shame if we were all at odds with the SWA?

How confused would a newbie be on these forum pages if he/she read all the blurb on the new packaging, etc, and then came onto these pages and found us all using different terms? :)

Best not get started on that Island region discussion again! :) :wink:

Return to “Whisky News”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests