Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Does 'Glen' Equal 'Scotch'?
Take a careful look at the picture above. What do you think it is? A bottle of liquor, of course, but what kind?
You're allowed to read the label.
Here is what the producer, Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia, has to say about it on its web site: "Glen Breton Rare Canadian Single Malt Whisky is the only single malt whisky produced in Canada. It is produced by the traditional copper pot stills method using only three ingredients: Barley, Yeast and Water."
So what? Today it was announced that the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) will appeal a Canadian court ruling allowing Glenora to call its product 'Glen Breton.' Why does the SWA care? Because it believes 'glen' means 'Scotch,' and if you put 'glen' in the name of a liquor, consumers will wrongly think it is scotch, and that would be bad.
Never mind that Glen Breton does not use the word 'scotch,' that the word 'Canada' appears prominently on the label, and that the label even includes the Canadian maple leaf symbol. That doesn't matter to the SWA, because to them it's all about that word 'glen,' which means 'valley' in English, but in the original Gaelic can also mean 'river.' All of the famous scotch whiskeys that have 'glen' in their name refer to the river on which the distillery is sited, hence the Glenlivet Distillery is located on the Livet River.
Nova Scotia is a Canadian province. It was largely settled by Scots, especially in the east where Glenora Distillery is located. Nova Scotia means "New Scotland." There are Scots all over the place in North America, so Scottish-sounding place names abound. In the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, there are a number of valleys that reminded early settlers of Scottish glens, so they used that name. Watkins Glen, with its racetrack, is probably the best known. Heaven help anyone there who tries to use 'glen' as part of the name of a distilled spirits product. The long arm of the SWA will be there to swat you.
Bill Dowd is a New York writer who interviewed David Williamson, public affairs manager of the SWA, about this case back in February. Bill's article about it is here.
The gist of the SWA's case is that the public so strongly associates the word 'glen' with scotch whiskey that any use of that word on a non-Scotch liquor product is bound to confuse consumers and must, therefore, be prohibited. This case has been going on for years so at some point, whatever the merits, it starts to look like this big, well-funded trade group harassing a little guy who is just trying to make an honest product faithful to the heritage of its place of origin.
Don't you feel protected?