Diageo challenges the concept of Scotch Whisky!

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Leaked documents tell how Diageo have secretly planned and tried to challenge the concept of what is to be allowed to be called Scotch whisky. Today, traditions from the late 15th century and current laws regulate what is to be allowed to be called Scotch whisky.

The most known and basic rules to be met for Scotch whisky is the distillation to be undertaken in Scotland, thereafter matured in oak barrels for at least three years and the final bottled product needs to be at a minimum of 40% ABV.

Some of the leaked suggestions are :

  • Tequila barrels should be allowed for finishes
  • A new category to be called “Scotch whisky infusion” should be allowed to be flavoured or low-alcohol drinks to be sold under current whisky brands

Scotch Whisky Association, SWA, was founded in 1912 and they have the final say in what is to be allowed to be called Scotch whisky. SWA was also highly influential when the law Scotch Whisky Regulation 2009 came into place.

SWA’s mission, among others, is to see to that current law and tradition work hand-in-hand. However, it’s rare to have a law covering all future eventualities and changes time brings.

One of the issues lately has been regarding the nowadays so popular finishes, meaning the whisky has its final finish in a cask of another origin. Popular finishes are sherry casks, for example Oloroso or PX.

The law does not state what kind of casks is to be allowed for finishing, meaning the SWA needs to rule case by case and rumours say Diageo has been turned down several times by the SWA. For example the SWA said no to finishing in Don Julio Tequila casks.

Diageo, the world’s single largest Scotch whisky maker, and others want to change what Scotch whisky is allowed to be. Many believe Scotch whisky needs to be modernized to attract new customer groups and to be to able keep current market shares. As a comparison, gin and beer (IPAs) has boomed during the last years by changing the conception of the traditional drinks.

However, Aldi released a report at the beginning of this year saying they sell more whisky bottles per hour than the do Gin bottles. 395 bottles compared to 392 bottles. This is an indication that whisky has not lost any market shares compared to other alcoholic beverages. This report came as a surprise to many within the spirits business.

Suggestion and calls for change regarding Scotch whisky is nothing new, perhaps one of the more interesting suggestions lately came from Eden Mill Distillery & Brewery wanting to use chocolate malt for their Scotch whisky. How exciting this may seem, it was turned down by SWA with the explanation “customers should feel safe what Scotch whisky is and stands for”.

What is regarded as new and surprising by many is the leaked documents comes from a distillery of the size of Diageo and to the extent they have secretly planned and tried to affect and change SWA and in the end what Scotch whisky should be.


Sources : The Wall Street Journal, The Herald, Aldi, and SWA