Friday, February 19, 2016

Compass Box Crusade Is Already Won in USA

You may have seen where independent scotch bottler Compass Box is campaigning for a labeling rules change. What you may not realize is that the rules Compass Box doesn't like already do not apply to whiskey sold in the USA.

Here is the Compass Box 'Statement of Belief' that they are asking whiskey enthusiasts to endorse:

We believe that Scotch producers should be given the freedom but not the obligation to include the age of all the components that go into their whiskies to bring them into line with the vast majority of other industries where total transparency is not only permitted but encouraged.

Americans are free to sign the petition if they want to but you should know that these rules don't apply to us and never have. Here, age statements are optional for any whiskey that is more than four years old. Age statements must state the age of the youngest whiskey in the mix, but producers are welcome to provide information about the other components too.

And they do. High West is releasing a new version of its popular Bourye that is "a unique and very premium blend of rich 9-year-old bourbon and 13- and 17-year-old ryes." Luxco's Blood Oath Pact 1 is a combination of three straight bourbons; a 6-year-old wheater, a 7-year-old rye recipe, and a 12-year-old rye recipe. Last year's Yellowstone Limited Edition was a 7-year-old wheater, a 7-year-old rye recipe bourbon, and a 12-year-old rye recipe bourbon. Diageo's new Gifted Horse whiskey is 39 percent 17-year-old Kentucky bourbon, 51 percent 4-year-old MGP Bourbon, and 10 percent 4-year-old MGP corn whiskey.

Diageo deserves credit for including the percentage of each component, which producers usually forgo. If you're looking for the distinctive taste of a 17-year-old whiskey, you might not get much if it's just 10 percent of the blend, but at 39 percent it should be very noticeable. That's why enthusiasts want this kind of information.

Compass Box wants to follow the Diageo example, describing all of the component whiskeys in its blend, including both age and percentage. In the U.S. market, their labels may contain all of that information right now.

Perhaps they had a good reason for it but the European Union (EU) rule, suggested by the Scotch Whiskey Association (SWA), seems absurd. Why prohibit producers from providing truthful information about their products? If the SWA/EU rule serves any interest it is certainly not that of consumers.

But it's not our problem.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the US defers it's definition to the UK's definition, so the battle really isn't won.

27 CFR 5.22 (b) 7: “Scotch whisky” is whisky which is a distinctive product of Scotland, manufactured in Scotland in compliance with the laws of the United Kingdom regulating the manufacture of Scotch whisky for consumption in the United Kingdom: Provided, That if such product is a mixture of whiskies, such mixture is “blended Scotch whisky” (Scotch whisky—a blend).

"In compliance with the law" is the key. If it's not in compliance with UK law then it's not Scotch here, either.

Chuck Cowdery said...

27 CFR 5.22 (b) 7 speaks to the manufacturing of the product, scotch whiskey, not to its labeling except in the specific instance cited, in which it must be labeled as a blend.

Anonymous said...

Not sure it is clear from the above, but should be noted that whilst Compass Box may well be allowed to disclose the composition on a label in the US under US Law, the contents likely could not be labeled or ‎referred to as Scotch, even in the US. 

For my two cents though, I must say there is a lot of smoke and mirrors on Compass Box's part with their "we'd love to but we can't" tact. Whether they knew of the rules existence or not, it speaks volumes that they only became burdened by the rule when releasing a blend with 30year + malt in the mix.

Anonymous said...

The Scottish regulations are pretty clear. There aren't two grades of Scotch; import and export face the same rules and that includes labeling. If the US calls it a distinctive product of Scotland you don't think that's deferring to Scotland to define it?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Scottish, British, and European rules do not apply in the United States. Period.

MadMex said...

As always, SWA has its head up its, er in the sand.

Erik Fish said...

Defining is not labeling, which is the issue here. Case in point: In Scotland, it does not have to be declared on the bottle whether the whisky contains caramel coloring. To be sold in Germany, which has tougher regulations, the same bottle receives a special label which shows that information, in German, as required. Scottish labeling rules are irrelevant outside the borders of the UK. Another case in point: Bourbon is a distinctive product of the US, protected by treaty in the EU, meaning only American-made whiskey can be sold as bourbon, but you still cannot sell 2-year old Bourbon in Europe anywhere and have the word "whiskey" on the bottle, because anything labeled "whisky" or "whiskey" has to have been in oak for three years. That's why you don't get "white whisky" in Scotland either. In summary: In other countries, you play by other countries' rules; here, we play by ours.

AndyM said...

This is a problem for Scotch Whisky buyers anywhere (including the US), though, because, we'll likely get the same labels as other markets (especially for bottles smaller than 750ml). If Compass Box or others are not free to publish their list of component whiskeys and identify the ages of each in the UK or EU, they probably won't publish them for us, either. In short, we don't need to debate the various legal standards, because the business realities will drive each bottler to minimize labeling costs and anyone who buys Scotch Whisky has a stake.