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SWA clarifies EU law following Compass Box breach

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has spoken out to clarify its position after Compass Box whisky withdrew detailed information about two new whiskies from its website due to a breach of EU law.

compass box
Compass Box has removed the full recipes for This Is Not A Luxury Whisky and Flaming Heart from its website

Compass Box Whisky Co published and subsequently removed the full recipes for This Is Not A Luxury Whisky and Flaming Heart on its website – including details of the distilleries involved, the cask types, the ages and their proportions in the final blend.

The SWA has stated that prior to the launch of the brand’s new bottlings, it informed Compass Box of the breach following a complaint from an unnamed brand owner.

Magnus Cormack, SWA director of legal affairs, told The Spirits Business: “We did not tell Compass Box to remove the detailed recipes. Following a complaint from a brand owner, we contacted Compass Box to point out that the advertising did not comply with the law.

“As we raised the matter before the product was launched, we observed that ‘there is therefore still time to correct the labelling and advertising in order to comply with the law.’ The action Compass Box took was up to them.

“We did however point out that compliance with the specifications for Scotch whisky is now verified by HMRC. Compass Box have evidently decided that the risks involved in ignoring the longstanding law on this matter were too great.”

Cormack explained that under Regulation 12.3 of the Spirit Drinks Regulation No 110/2008, maturation period or age “may only be specified in the description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink where it refers to the youngest alcoholic component”.

Furthermore, “presentation” is defined in Annex 1 point (15) of the Regulation as “the terms used on the labelling and on the packaging, including in advertising and sales promotion, in images or such like, as well as on the container, including the bottle and the closure”.

Cormack also advised that the legislation applies to all aged spirits in the EU – so neither the UK nor the SWA can derogate from it.

He added: “The law is an EU law. The UK has no power to derogate from this rule, and it is therefore repeated in the Scotch Whisky Regulations and in the Technical File for Scotch Whisky.

“A change would require agreement by the 28 Member States, and pre-supposes that all other spirits sectors would be in agreement.”

It is possible to imagine a number of reasons why the EU legislator adopted this rule 26 years ago, including the possibility that, given the different maturation practices across the various spirits sectors, advertising of the type in question might lead consumers to erroneous conclusions about the quality of certain types of spirit drink as against others.”

Compass Box has been contacted for comment.

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