I mentioned some time ago that I was a language purist – see the post Whisky or Whiskey. At times I can also be a hair splitter. Recently I commented, on a post by fellow whisky blogger G-LO, that Glenfarclas would probably be forced to change their labels in the near future, due to a particular stipulation in the recent Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009.
I came across this knowledge because late last year I attended a briefing on the regulations hosted by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). With South Africa having in 2009 become effectively the 4th largest export market for Scotch worldwide (Singapore was actually 4th, but I think we can assume that they’re just redistributing), these guys are paying attention to us down here.
Specifically I’m referring to a point related to Geographical Indication. The SWA have defined 5 official Scotch whisky regions: Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, and Campbeltown. No sub-regions, no “Islands”, and none of the other deviations that have evolved over the years. Furthermore they have unequivocally stated that in order to claim regional provenance a whisky must be “wholly distilled” in that region. Maturation it seems can take place anywhere in Scotland.
This brings us to Glenfarclas, which is located in Speyside, near a town with the wonderfully Scottish sounding name of Ballindalloch. Yet its label proclaims it to be a Highlands whisky.
Hence I logically assumed that it would need to change. Concerned however about my journalistic integrity I decided to write to Glenfarclas to verify my assumption. G-LO, apologies, it seems that I’m wrong. Here’s the reply from George Grant of the Glenfarclas Grants:
Thank you for your email.
Simplest way to explain, all Speyside whiskies are Highland Whiskies, but not all Highland Whiskies are Speyside. In the small print on our labels we do put Speyside. Macallan also does the same put Highland rather than Speyside. The Speyside region is a relatively new region. And Glenfarclas has been a Highland Whisky for over 100 years before the Speyside region came about. Hope this helps.
It was very kind of him to respond to my nit-picking. I was indeed aware that Speyside had previously been considered a sub-region of the Highlands, but post-2009 it seems to me that this officially no longer applies. Perhaps the fine print resolves the issue…I don’t have sight of the detail of the regulations so can’t comment definitively. But fine print or not, the whisky is still claiming Highlands origin, despite being distilled in Speyside, and from a broad common-sense point of view this seems to be contrary to the spirit of the regulations. I wrote to the SWA to get their views on the matter, and I’ll let you know if they bother to respond.
George’s response also raises the issue of whether these regulations are fair or not. If indeed my interpretation is correct, why should Glenfarclas be forced to change a claim that they’ve legitimately made for over 100 years? More importantly does any of this make much of a difference. There is so much variety within the regions, that they are no longer (if they ever were) a consistently reliable guide to flavour. Even relatively homogenous regions such as Islay have startling exceptions (witness the unpeated Bunnahabhain). They are peripheral, more relevant to the culture of whisky than the product itself.
Fascinating nonetheless. I love this stuff!