The Whisky Exchange has learned of a startling development that could turn the whisky industry on its head – within 12 months, every spirit produced in the EU will need to declare its age on the label. The new directive comes into force in spring 2017, and is expected to have a far-reaching impact on the industry. The new ruling is the result of lobbying from consumer groups for greater transparency in food-and-drink labelling.
Distilleries will have just one year to adjust to the legislation, and the effects will be far-reaching. Once the changes come into effect, all spirits made in the EU will need to display the following information:
- age (years/months)
- ingredients (all raw materials/botanicals used)
- additives/colouring (for example, caramel/oak essence)
- all blended whiskies must show the age of each component, and percentage of malts and grains
- Trading Standards officers to be deployed at all whisky distilleries
Spirits producers across Europe, especially those involved in Scotch whisky, are now deciding their next move, with legal challenges expected. The big companies have already drawn up contingency plans for both production and labelling, and extensive consumer research is already under way to find out if drinkers would be happy to buy bottles labelled just ‘Single Malt Whisky’ with no indication of where they were made.
Age (in years/months)
This will have the greatest impact on the industry. All EU-made spirits must declare their full age, in years and months, on the front of the bottle, which means that Non-Age-Statement (NAS) whiskies will be a thing of the past.
Ingredients (all raw materials/botanicals used)
From 2017, all ingredients used in the production process will be required to be listed on the label. For whisky, this includes the strain of barley.
Additives/colouring (for example, caramel/oak essence)
Any additives or colouring used in the spirit production process must be clearly described. For whisky, the crucial one is caramel – a hot topic among whisky drinkers. This section of the legislation was led by German Agriculture Minister Herr Farbstoff, who said that the EU must follow Germany’s lead in this area. He was overheard walking out of a recent meeting saying: ‘Ich habe mich für diesen Veränderungen seit vielen Jahren eingesetzt. Das Leben wird für Whisky-Hersteller härter sein, aber wir dürfen nie vergessen, dass er der sagt A auch zu sagen hat B.’
All blended whiskies must show the age of each component, and percentage of malts and grains
Another huge shake-up for the industry – blended whiskies will need to reveal all components in the blend and their respective ages, so blenders’ secret recipes will not be secret for much longer. This is a timely change in the law, given the recent coverage on this topic. Whisky companies are, understandably, unhappy because the magic and mystique behind the art of blending will be lost – and more importantly, some of the labels of these blended whiskies will be very large indeed.
Trading Standards Officers to be deployed at all whisky distilleries
To ensure that the new rules are adhered to, every whisky distillery will have Trading Standards officers permanently on site, with an additional officer on duty as caramel supervisor. This radical change, coupled with the extra work and bureaucracy, will bring an additional 5,000 jobs to Scotland alone. John Glaser of Compass Box launched a campaign for greater transparency in the Scotch whisky industry earlier this year, and EU chiefs have been quick to act – Glaser will spend two months a year in Strasbourg in a consultancy role from 2017.
The new legislation will change the spirits world forever, and whisky companies will be faced with two options – they can continue to distil in the EU and follow the rules, or they can distil elsewhere. The consequences of the latter, however, would be huge – terms such as ‘Scotch’, ‘Speyside’ and ‘Highland’ would be ruled out immediately.
The industry’s reaction
Here is how the giants of the industry have reacted:
- The Edrington Group, which owns Macallan and Highland Park, among others, has already been trialling whisky distilled in China to take advantage of Asia, its strongest market
- LVMH, owner of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, will also be heading to China to make whisky, and has already submitted plans to build a huge distillery next to its winery in the Shangri-La mountains of Hunan Province near Tibet
- Beam Suntory, which counts Laphroaig and Bowmore among its Scotch whisky brands, is also heading east. The company has made an approach to buy land and build a new distillery on Sado Island (pictured below) located in Niigata Prefecture in Japan’s Chūbu region. Sado is similar in climate, size and shape to Islay, and Beam Suntory is confident that it can replicate the trademark styles of its two Islay malts.
- Pernod Ricard will be producing and maturing whisky on the French island of Bendor, which was bought by Paul Ricard in 1950. Bendor is just a few hundreds yards from Bandol in Provence, and Pernod is seeking prinicipality status for the island, which if granted, would see it immune from the new legislation. Expect plenty of Bendor-matured Aberlour, Glenlivet, Strathisla and Scapa in the near future. It will also be the final resting place for many a cask of Martell ‘Brandy’, too…
It’s not just whisky that will be affected; other spirit categories will see big changes, too:
The world of Cognac will be changed forever by the new legislation. The standard VS/VSOP/XO classifications can still be used on the bottle, but the age of every component in the bottle must be declared on the label. Rémy Martin has gone one stage further. The company will relocate to the Caribbean and produce Louis XIII at Rémy’s Mount Gay distillery in Barbados. Sugar-cane spirit aged in Limousin oak has been trialled, and early results are encouraging…
Every EU-made vodka will have to show how it was made, how long it was rested for (including days/hours if under one month) and also where it was made – in addition what it was filtered through, precious stones and all.
Like vodka, all EU gins will need to show where and how they were made. In addition, they will need to include information on all botanicals and their quantities – including the proportionate number of juniper berries in every bottle.
Of course, for all spirits produced outside the EU, these regulations will not apply, so
the likes of rum and Tequila will not be subject to change – expect sales of both to increase significantly from 2017 onwards. It remains to be seen how whisky companies will respond to the new legislation, but one thing is certain – the spirits industry will never be the same again.
(Happy April Fool’s Day!)