Scotch laws restrict new craft distillers

03 March 2017 by

There are too many legal barriers to entry for innovative ‘craft’ Scotch whisky distillers and not enough support from the industry, the owner of Strathearn distillery has claimed.

Speaking at the World Whisky Forum held at Box distillery in Sweden on 9-10 February, Tony Reeman-Clark explained how conflicting legal requirements from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), HMRC, Food Standards Agency and European Commission forced him to remove 12 products from the market.

He said: ‘You can’t call your new make spirit “new make spirit”, you have to call it “grain spirit”, but we make 100% malt.

‘I have a malt distilling licence; I have a grain distilling licence. If I call my new make “grain spirit” I’m breaking HMRC laws and… actually upsetting the SWA, but if I don’t call it grain spirit, I’m breaking European laws. No matter what I do I’m breaking a law, so I take it off the market.

‘There is an expression: [between] a rock and a hard place.’

Reeman-Clark, who founded Methven’s Strathearn distillery in 2013, and was also chairman of the Scottish Craft Distillers Association for three years, said the contradiction between the bodies was just one of a ‘huge number of barriers to entry’ for small whisky distillers in Scotland.

‘The challenge for us is we were the first [small whisky distillery] and as a result we keep hitting the speed bumps; every one of them,’ he added.

However he claimed that of the new raft of small distilleries opening in Scotland over the past few years, the majority are focused on gin, which is governed by fewer legal restrictions. Only a very small number are producing whisky.

Reeman-Clark said that as a result, not enough businesses are campaigning against the government to reduce the amount of red tape and make it easier for small whisky distillers to succeed.

‘There’s not sufficient voices backing us,’ he said. ‘There’s only about 4-5 of us really on the small scale of the whisky end. I’m the first producing; I think the next one is 12 months’ time. So they’re letting me break the ice… It’s important for everybody else if I can knock a barrier down.’

Strathearn distillery recently released its first 3-year-old single malt whisky in a run of 100 bottles, the first bottle of which sold for £4,150. The lowest bid was £315.

Reeman-Clark said: ‘It’s great for us, but also great for the industry. It means people around the whole world are looking at small-scale distillers. Not just us – people in England, people in Tasmania, people around the whole world. We’ve grown up as craft distillers.’

The distillery also produces its own cider brandy and rum.

A 10-minute interview with Reeman-Clark is also available to view on the World Whisky Forum website along with presentations and interviews with each of the speakers, including Ichiro Akuto and Yumi Yoshikawa of Chichibu distillery; Jasmin Haider-Stadler of Austria’s Haider distillery; Steven Kersley, head of the Lone Wolf distillation team; Ludo Ducrocq of William Grant & Sons; Roger Melander of Box distillery; Matt Hofmann of Westland distillery; Kevin Abrook of William Grant & Sons; Patrick Van Zuidam of Zuidam distillers; Jota Tanaka of Kirin Brewery Co; and head of the World Whisky Forum, Jan Groth. 

Additional presentations from the World Whisky Forum 2017 will also be uploaded to over the coming weeks.

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