In light of the whisky industries knowledge and technical advances is it not time that the SWA reviewed its position on this matter and if not allowing Loch Lomond Distillery to call this expression single malt whisky, than perhaps opening up another category in which it and may be similar whiskies can be placed, and not to insist that this product be called grain whisky, which is their position at the moment. The world is an ever changing market and if the SWA don't move with it, than the Scottish whisky industry could be left behind.
"Anyone for Coffey malt
Funny thing tradition. Seems to mean different things to different people. Finishing, for example, is 'traditional' despite being an innovation which started in the 1990s. Making malt whisky in a column still isn't traditional despite having been a technique used since the 19th century. Let me explain.
Two weeks ago, Loch Lomond Distillers asked the SWA to consider creating a new category for malt whisky made in continuous stills. As it makes such a product this seems worthy of debate. The SWA rejects this, as the technique "does not... reflect traditional Scotch Whisky distillation and practice."
This strikes me as strange. Historical records show that so-called 'Silent Malt' was widely made in the 19th century. Cameronbridge, Yoker and Glenmavis distilleries all produced such a spirit and there's evidence that the practise was common elsewhere. In 1913, Nettleton refers to: "Patent-still all-malt whisky, as made at one or two distilleries, may claim the title 'whisky' with the qualifying description."
Neither was the technique restricted to the 19th century. George Christie produced this type of whisky from a continuous still at his North of Scotland distillery until the 1960s and, obviously, Loch Lomond continues to do so. Both Irish Distillers and Nikka are currently making whiskies of this style... outwith the Scotch Whisky Act of course, but evidence that this isn't just a one-off. Coffey Malt may be unusual, but it has solid historical precedent.
I wrote to the SWA for clarification and they, speedy and polite as ever, responded, highlighting a sub-clause in the new regulations which states that malt whisky can only be made in pot stills, a change from the current regs.
What then, I wonder idly, is the legal definition of a pot? Is a Lomond still, for example a pot? Is a pot still with a rectifying column attached a pot? "We've looked at them," came the response, "and they're considered to be pots. Loch Lomond is however producing from column stills and that's outwith the new regulations." They then added that though Loch Lomond will have to call its product grain whisky, it would be allowed to state on the label that it was made from 100% malted barley. Reasonable enough?
Well... maybe we should read on:
"Patent stills have been used since the mid 19th century - what is not traditional is that Scotch Whisky produced from such a still should be described and/or sold to customers as Single Malt Scotch Whisky [which is] a recognised trade description with a particular reputation. Whether or not Mr Christie distilled a malt mash in a continuous still in 1960 and whether or not such a practice was known in the 19th century is neither here nor there.
"But for the new Regulations, the fact that some of the 'Single Malt' being distilled by Loch Lomond since 2005 is from a continuous still would never have become public - it certainly isn't mentioned on their web-site. The new Regulations are needed to prevent precisely this sort of thing going on behind the scenes.
"The requirement to adhere to traditional practice arises out of EU Regulations, hence the use of the term. Just because something has happened a couple of times in the past does not make it a traditional means of producing Single Malt Scotch Whisky in 2008."
Is this double-think? The EU requires you to adhere to traditional practise, but despite this having been a technique used continuously (pardon the pun) since the 19th century it isn't traditional? This production technique didn't happen 'once or twice', but was an accepted practise which, though not widely used, was and still is part and parcel of the making of Scotch Whisky. In other words it is part of the tradition.
Given this, there is greater historical precedent in the distillation of 100% malted barley in a patent/column still than there is around finishing. I can find no reference in any historical documents about distillers using Sauternes casks (etc) in the production of their whiskies. I can, however, find plenty of evidence of them making 'Coffey malt'! If tradition is to be used a legal grounding for these regulations then it must be used in a consistent and equable fashion. That isn't the case here.
The SWA also argued that one reason for rejecting Loch Lomond's submission was that "one of the aims is to produce a lighter spirit which matures more quickly. You can imagine the implications for small traditional malt whisky distilleries if such a product was able to use the Single Malt description."
Now, "quicker-maturing" whisky has been the holy grail of every distiller (or at least their accounts departments) for decades. If distillers find a way of creating a mature whisky at 3 years of age then what is to stop them? Or is this suggesting that single malt should have a different minimum age? Are the 3yo malts used in blends not mature?
It's an open secret that experiments are ongoing to try and find ways of accelerating the interactive process. The fact that continuous stills might make a quicker maturing whisky can't be an argument for not allowing the "Coffey Malt".
It transpires however that the real reason for the rejection of the 6th definition might be down to finance. "Installing a continuous still in an existing Single Malt distillery is for all intents and purposes a shortcut to increase capacity without the expense of installing new pot stills. (We understand, for example, that the single continuous still used by Loch Lomond for distilling malt mash has an output equivalent to six pot stills.)" So, the reason this was rejected was because it saved money? The SWA logic was that if Coffey Malt could be defined as a single malt then all distillers would scrap their pots, install columns and make this lighter variation on the theme. Fact is, Loch Lomond didn't want to call their malt single malt whisky, which would potentially cause confusion, but wanted a new designation for this specific method of production.
I felt obliged to ask whether the SWA's remit now extended to controlling firms' financial decisions? "The simple answer is no. We are not making any attempt to control financial decisions and, as you are aware, we cannot do so. There is nothing to stop the building of patent stills and distilling a malt mash in them. Our point is the resultant spirit cannot be described as Single Malt Scotch Whisky for reasons explained." But that's not what was said and the logic behind the other reasons [ie the lack of tradition etc] strike me as being fundamentally flawed.
This one will run."
Collector57 wrote:Very interesting article and I think I'm with the writer on this
It reminds me "truths about whisky". Why not making malt from coffey still, preferably with a mention on the label.
I would guess that coffey malt is more tasty than grain whisky?
Let's taste the results and the consumer to decide.
I recall a review of a grain whisky in the back pages of WM a few years ago, in which it was noted that grain whisky is usually made from whatever grain is cheapest; at the time this whisky was distilled, that happened to be barley, which fact was cited as a reason that this particular grain whisky was exceptionally good. But it was still Scotch grain whisky.
It's worth repeating that Loch Lomond didn't ask for the whisky to be allowed to be labeled as single malt, but was seeking a new classification, which I think is fair enough. Absent that, calling it "grain whisky from 100% barley malt" ought to suffice.
As to the definition of a pot still, it's a still in which distillation is done in batches. I suppose you could run batches in a column still, but you can't run a pot still continuously.
As for finishing, that's a completely separate debate, if one worth having (as we have more than once). Sometimes I think Deactivated member 8 was correct to call for these to be labeled "flavoured whiskies". A bit late to close the barn door on that one, though. And that in itself is instructive--once you blur these lines, it's pretty much impossible to refocus them.
MrTattieHeid wrote:As for finishing, that's a completely separate debate, if one worth having (as we have more than once)... A bit late to close the barn door on that one, though. And that in itself is instructive--once you blur these lines, it's pretty much impossible to refocus them.
Exactly what I was thinking to myself while drinking that last pour of 1992 Bowmore Wine Cask Matured 16 Year Old... 6 years spent in ex-Bourbon wood and approximately a further decade in red Bordeaux casks. Would one term this whisky...
1. double matured?
3. seriously finished?
Collector57 wrote:Grain whisky is grain whisky because it's unmalted.
I don't believe that's correct. In Scotland, grain whisky is anything made in a column still, regardless of the grain used, or whether or not it is malted. You may be able to parse some illogic out of the terminology, but there's no contradiction; single malt Scotch whisky is made in pot stills. This is not a matter of perpetuating misnomers and mistakes; it's a matter of using a tightly-defined term to protect the integrity of the product. Allowing column-still whisky to be called single malt would change the face of the industry and create massive confusion. The onus would fall on the producers to specify when the whisky is made only in pot stills, as consumers will demand, when it now goes by definition. I can't see any upside to this whatever...it just seems a bad idea to me.
Now all someone has to do is throw some wheat or rye or corn into a pot still...what the hell will we call that? In Scotland, it simply isn't done.
"Single Malt whisky" should certainly be kept as is but Loch Lomond are/were asking for a new category and I'm sympathetic.
The problem seems to be that SWA use the ingredients to define the whisky rather than the technology which is ok until you have awkward customers like Loch Lomond popping up and punching a hole right through it.
1. So 100% malted barley distilled in a pot still = malt
2. A mix of grains in a column still = grain
3. 100% malted barley in a column still = ?
4. What if a Scottish Distillery wanted to make an Irish Pot Still
i.e. A mix of grains distilled in a pot still = ?
The reason there are no categories for the latter two whiskies is exactly because SWA defines its categories by ingredient when they really mean to define it by technology as well. As long as everyone does 1 and/or 2 then it works.
To call 3 grain whisky isn't right as it isn't a mixture of grains.
Does this mean the SWA need a rethink of categories
1 Malt whisky
2. Column distilled grain whisky
3. Column distiled malt whisky
4. Pot still grain whisky
After the contorversy of the last effort I wouldn't like to suggest they have another go but there clearly is a problem.
Is 1+3 a blended malt or a blend...!
MrTattieHeid wrote:I'm still with the SWA. Single malt Scotch whisky is traditionally made in pot stills.
Well, Mr T I am not sure that the tradition argument is a valid one. As soon as the Coffey still was invented malt was produced with it.
And why not? They patent still has so much more advantages to a traditional pot still that the temptation was irresistable.
But it did not work out. Afaik the early attempts at continous malt were ended because that product did not mature very well at the time too eratically as I read somewhere and cutomers did not like it.
So the single malt traditionally made in pot stills had a narrow escape. Who knows what we might talk about today if the first continuous malts had been a success!
Look a bourbon. History shows that traditional rye and bourbon whisky were distilled in pot stills. Continous stills were not around then.
But different from single malt continously distilled bourbon did work out so the pot stills died out in bourbon production, well almost that is.
At least today we do not know better because bourbon distillers decided at one point to switch to continous distillation and not many of us have ever had a rye or bourbon distilled in pot stills.
MrTattieHeid wrote:Collector57 wrote:Grain whisky is grain whisky because it's unmalted.
I don't believe that's correct. In Scotland, grain whisky is anything made in a column still, regardless of the grain used, or whether or not it is malted. .
You are actually, and factually, incorrect. Have a look at the scotch whisky act and you will find that there is NO reference legally as to what stills are required to make single malt whisky. I have looked at the act, and you may correct me if I'm wrong, but malt whisky is only made with malted barley, scotch malt whisky is the former made in scotland, and single malt is simply coming from ONE distillery. Loch Lomond is perfectly correct to call it single malt. NOW , if it is no good, let the customers and connoisseurs decide.
Do not let form triumph over content. It shouldn't matter what the stills look like so long as the product adheres to the law and is of quality.
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