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Broader range of casks now available to Scotch brands

The rules that govern how Scotch whisky is made have been amended to expand the use of casks allowed for maturation.

Amended Scotch whisky rules provide “clarity” and “more flexibility”

The amended rules, which have now come into force, follow a public consultation conducted by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It has been lodged with the European Commission by Defra.

The Scotch Whisky Technical File gives specific guidance on the range of casks that can be used to mature or finish Scotch whisky.

The file is used by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to safeguard compliance with the main requirements for Scotch whisky and is critical for maintaining the category’s geographical indication (GI) status.

It now allows Scotch to be matured in oak casks that have been used to mature wine, beer, ale and spirits, vastly broadening the variety of casks available to distillers.

However, the rule excludes casks used to mature wine, beer, ale, or spirits produced from stone fruits or those in which fruit, flavouring or sweetening have been added after fermentation or after distillation.

The regulation also states that the end product “must have the traditional colour, taste and aroma characteristics of Scotch whisky”.

‘Additional flexibility’

“This amendment provides clarity and some additional flexibility on the range of casks in which Scotch whisky can be matured,” said SWA chief executive Karen Betts.

“The change is consistent with Scotch whisky’s heritage and traditions, and strengthens our foundations into the future.”

SWA director of legal affairs, Alan Park said: “The global reputation for the quality and origin of Scotch whisky has been built over many decades, aided by strong legal protection. The legal requirements are vital to protecting the reputation and quality of the world’s premier spirit which millions around the world know and love.

“A wide range of wine, beer and spirit casks have been used over the years to mature Scotch whisky and clarity about what is allowed under the law should be provided in the Scotch Whisky Technical File.

“The amendment is consistent with the continued use of all those categories of casks where there is evidence of long-standing traditional use in the industry.

“But it will also create more flexibility, particularly in the range of spirits casks which can be used, subject to a number of safeguards which protect the reputation of Scotch whisky.”

Over recent years, multiple Scotch whisky producers – including Bruichladdich and Compass Box – have called for greater transparency in the Scotch whisky category, which they said was limited by the regulations.

In January 2018, a story broke in The Wall Street Journal claiming the world’s largest spirits producer, Diageo, had assembled a “secret task force” to assess potential changes to the law. A month later, French firm Pernod Ricard also said it holds a “similar” view to Diageo.

Speaking to The Spirits Business last year, SWA’s Betts said she believed there could be “more flexibility” in how the regulations are viewed than the SWA had previously “taken advantage of”.

For an in-depth look at the potential impact changes to the Scotch whisky regulations could have on the category, click here.

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