Great news for Scotch whisky drinkers! The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is making in-roads to protect our favourite tipple over in New Zealand – and it’s a crucial move for imbibers the world over.
What makes Scotch a Scotch? The rules are set to become even clearer for whisky fans in New Zealand after the SWA applied to join the geographical indication (GI) register in the country. GIs are that bit of legal wizardry that not only defines a product’s characteristics, but protects it from counterfeiting, too. Not the most thrilling thing to think about while indulging in a dram, but vitally important nonetheless.
Made in Scotland – check. Only using water, cereals, yeast – of course. Matured in Scotland for at least three years in oak casks – absolutely. The fundamentals of Scotch whisky are pretty easy to reel off for enthusiasts, and they form the basis of Scotch whisky’s GI. But why are they important?
The Scottish element is pretty obvious. If it ain’t made in Scotland, it’s not a Scotch whisky. Full stop. That’s not to say other countries can’t make brilliant whisky (we were extolling the virtues of European distilleries just a few weeks ago), but we’re talking Scotch here. And the Scotch GI is emphatic on this point.
Water, cereals and yeast (colourant E150 is also permitted). And that’s it. The GI means that our Scotch whisky bottles can’t be stealthily topped up with anything else. No nasties. No sneaky tricks*.
Three years in oak. This is super important – of all three, this is arguably where the most stringent quality control check comes in. With so much of whisky’s flavour coming from the casks it resides in and the interaction between liquid and oak, this is as close of a guarantee you can get that Scotch will be well-made, well-aged and generally looked after before it’s bottled. Now, every cask will have a maturation sweet spot, and this is almost certainly not going to be at three years old. But if there’s a tastiness minimum, this three-year threshold in the Scotch GI aims to have it covered.
So why does this bit of legislative lore likely to come into play in New Zealand matter?
Firstly, those Kiwis (hello if you’re reading!) have got a healthy thirst for all things Scotch whisky. Exports to New Zealand soared by 18% last year and were worth £6.3 million, reckons the SWA. That’s a lot of whisky. If the Association gets its Scotch GI approved (and we hope it will) that growth rate looks set to accelerate. Drinkers will be even more confident that their Scotch is actually Scotch, produced to those very guidelines. It’ll kick those selling fraudulent Scotch whisky in the teeth. More exports, less fakes? That’s a boost to Scotch whisky for everyone, the world over.
“As Scotch whisky continues to grow in popularity, attempts are often made to try to take unfair advantage of its success, for example by trying to make and sell fakes,” sums up Lindesay Low, the SWA’s senior legal counsel. “Recognition as a GI helps protect against such illegal activities. It’s important that consumers have confidence in the provenance of what they are buying, which this recognition of Scotch as a ‘geographical indication’ will help to achieve.”
Nearly 100 countries recognise ‘Scotch whisky’ by its SWA-decreed GI definition, and New Zealand looks set to join the ranks shortly. It’s not clear when the go-ahead will come, but we’re excited. Anything that helps get more delicious whisky into people’s glasses is to be toasted vociferously. Sláinte!
*Aside from E150, which sometimes can be super sneaky. But that’s a discussion for another time…