Wednesday 19 November 2003

Freedom, Whisky and Truth

A very Scottish row has broken out about our national drink:
At a crunch meeting behind closed doors at the Glasgow offices of Morrison Bowmore, senior executives from all of the major distillers rallied behind the industry’s representative body, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), saying it still had a "significant role to play" in the resolution of the issue.
So what's causing all this angst?

The giant of the distilling world, Diageo, has decided to alter the ingredients of Cardhu, its hugely popular malt whisky. Hitherto, Cardhu was a "single malt", that is it came from one distillery. The Cardow distillery can't keep up with demand and Cardhu is to become a "vatted malt" containing five separate whiskies. Diageo protests its innocence:

"Pure Malt" may not be a familiar term to many Scotch whisky drinkers. But we didn’t invent it – it has long been a recognised expression within the whisky business, meaning that there is no grain spirit in the product. Another term for Pure Malt is Vatted Malt, but this does not translate easily into other languages.

It is not a blended whisky either, since this involves combining malt whisky with distilled grain spirit. Neither is it a ‘single malt’, which is a term meaning that the malt whisky is from one distillery only. As we have explained, Cardhu Pure Malt will contain other Speyside malt whiskies including malt whisky from Cardow distillery (formerly known as Cardhu, but will deliver the same pure Speyside flavour and style. This means that we can supply much more of it to those overseas markets where it has become a firm favourite.

The rest of the industry has "united against Diageo over its decision to relaunch Cardhu as a "pure malt"." I think that they are correct. As Diageo acknowledges, the term "Pure Malt" is not a familiar term to consumers. If I were to see a bottle describing itself as "Pure Malt" I would have assumed that it was the product of one distillery. Unsurprisingly our politicians have got involved although Tony Blair is "not entirely sure this is a matter for government." Diageo seems to agree for they have stated that: "ultimately, the issue had to be resolved by the SWA."

Hopefully this can be resolved by the trade association without resort to lawyers and courtrooms, thus demonstrating that private arbitration can resolve complex matters.

Alternatively, a few cases of pure, single, vatted, and even blended whiskies could be sent round to the editorial suite of Freedom and Whisky where rigorous adjudication would take place. I'll drink to that.