From the editors

Moral compass

  • It used to happen every month, then every fortnight. Soon it was every week. Now it seems like it is every day that the topic of No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies inveigles its way into conversation. I’m fully expecting my wonderful and long-suffering postie, Rose, to stand on the doorstep tomorrow and say: ‘Dave, what is it with all these NAS whiskies?’

    My line has remained the same. Nothing inherently wrong, difference between age and maturity, allows whisky makers a freer rein, necessity at time of stock squeeze/excessive demand.

    With one caveat: as long as the whiskies replacing (or accompanying) the existing age statement expressions are as good as or better than the products they are replacing/joining, and that producers educate consumers and trade as to what their rationale is.

    An integral part of that education, I’d argue, is being transparent. It’s not just a matter of what’s going on, but what’s going in. After all, what’s to hide? If the whiskies being used include young and old, then why not tell us the age and the cask type?

    That then opens out the (much needed) discussion of the difference between age (a number) and maturity (a character).

    It allows distillers to talk about wood programmes and cask influence, it demonstrates the fundamentals of blending.

    It explains whisky to a consumer who wants to have whisky explained. It helps detoxify the debate.

    Now it would appear that telling consumers everything about what is in a bottle is, in fact, illegal. The latest disagreement between the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and Compass Box (it’s never the other way around) is surely the most ridiculous one yet.

    John Glaser, Compass Box

    Transparency: but the openness of John Glaser and Compass Box is also illegal

    The SWA does sterling work and, in this case, all it has done is to act on behalf of one of its members (though wouldn’t you love to know who complained, and why?). In addition, its hands appear to be tied thanks to an EU law originally drafted in 1989.

    The SWA is following the letter of the law, and all the firm that complained is doing is hiding behind the SWA. 

    The question here is twofold. Can the law be changed? Is there a willingness on the part of the SWA (or its members) to push for that change in the law? I’m no Edinburgh lawyer, but I seem to recall that only a few years ago the SWA did just that, around labelling.

    The reason? The old descriptors were confusing to the consumer. They were, in other words, lacking in clarity, and so the law was changed. Saying: ‘I know it’s wrong, but I’m afraid it’s the law,’ is not a credible defence.

    It might be that derogation from EU law is more problematic than changing a UK law which then becomes EU law. Derogation, however, means ‘an exemption from or relaxing of [my italics] a rule or law’.

    Is there then a possibility that this clause can be relaxed to permit the option of an open declaration of the composition of a blended product in the case of Scotch whisky? The SWA is a lobbying organisation. Is this worth lobbying for?

    If one of the body’s members asked for this possibility to be explored, would the SWA act? History has shown that if there is sufficient demand from its members for change the SWA can change.

    So here’s a question. Which of the members of the SWA doesn’t agree with there being an option to declare fully the make-up of an NAS whisky – and why?

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