Compass Box response

17 Feb 2016

David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: "The rules around Scotch Whisky are set by governments, at EU and UK level.

"The SWA's role is to explain those rules so producers can comply.  Complying is a legal obligation and it's not for us to suggest that laws should be broken.

"Equally, where appropriate and our members want it, we are ready to work to encourage change to existing laws. Changes can't happen overnight,  though, and where the rules are set at EU level they need to be agreed with other member states.  At the moment we are not hearing a consensus for change,  but we are always happy to have the discussion.

"We would of course also be delighted if Compass Box were to want to join the SWA to bring its perspective more fully to bear on such discussions."

Our open letter to, providing more information on the issue, is available here. And an explanation of the EU regulations is below:

The SWA did not tell Compass Box to remove the detailed recipes. Following a complaint from a brand owner, we contacted Compass Box to point out that the advertising did not comply with the law. As we raised the matter before the product was launched, we observed that there is therefore still time to correct the labelling and advertising in order to comply with the law. The action Compass Box took was up to them. We did however point out that compliance with the specifications for Scotch Whisky is now verified by HMRC.

Regulation 12.3 of the Spirit Drinks Regulation No 110/2008 contains the rule which provides that a maturation period or age "may only be specified in the description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink where it refers to the youngest alcoholic component

Presentation" is defined in Annex 1 point (15) of the Regulation as "the terms used on the labelling and on the packaging, including in advertising and sales promotion, in images or such like, as well as on the container, including the bottle and the closure" (emphasis added).

Article 12.3 is a repetition of the rule in the previous Spirit Drinks Regulation (No 1576/89). It applies to all aged spirits in the EU. The UK has no power to derogate from this rule, and it is therefore repeated in the Scotch Whisky Regulations and in the Technical File for Scotch Whisky.

It is possible to imagine a number of reasons why the EU legislator adopted this rule 26 years ago, including the possibility that, given the different maturation practices across the various spirits sectors, advertising of the type in question might lead consumers to erroneous conclusions about the quality of certain types of spirit drink as against others. Perhaps the original debates in the European Parliament will throw light on the matter, and you may wish to research that.

We drew the attention of Compass Box to the relevant law  in 2011 and 2012.  As already noted, the law is an EU law. Neither the UK nor the SWA can derogate from it. A change would require agreement by the 28 Member States, and pre-supposes that all other spirits sectors would be in agreement.