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?


Wade said...

Quick answer - no. They don't use the word Scotch anywhere on the label so they are well within their rights. I remember when some US producers of "Agave spirit" wanted to call their product Tequila. My answer then was that Tequila, like Scotch, is protected to a certain geographic area and they should create and market a new category for themselves.

Glenora is doing exactly that - more power to them.

Chuck said...

However.... Do the names "Glen Breton" or "Glenora" have anything to do with anything in connection with this whiskey and distillery? Are they names of places where the whiskey is made, or the water or some other ingredient comes from, etc.? If not, that pretty much proves that the Scotch group has a point, since I strongly suspect that those words were chosen because they convey a sense of Scottishness. It is malt whiskey, too: "single" malt---does that term have any legal meaning in Canada, or is it yet another trapping of Scotch they are adopting? I suspect none of this would be happening if it was a traditional rye-charactered Canadian blend that just called itself "Canadian whiskey", even if it was Glen something.

I don't think the Scotch group will or should win, but it sure looks to me like there was a conscious effort made to invoke the idea of single-malt Scotch, with all its snob appeal.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Glenora Distillery is located in the town of Glenville on Cape Breton Island. The region has nothing but Scottish place names, including lots of glens.

The whiskey is an all-malt whiskey from a single distillery, hence a single malt. While, yes, the term single malt is common in scotch, it is also used by the Irish, Japanese and Americans for domestic products. Why not Canada?

Lew Bryson said...

Chuck (just Chuck, not Cowdery),
The SWA has gone after plenty of non-single malt whiskies for being too close to Scotch whisky -- tartan labels, bagpipes, "Mac" names -- they've even gone after Indian 'whiskies' made from molasses.
Glenora has been careful to not be Scotch whisky, but a single malt whisky. Whether the term has legal meaning in Canada or not is not that important; after all, Canadian whisky is allowed to have "rye whisky" on the label even if no rye is used in making the spirit.