Facebook today has been awash with the news that Compass Box has been instructed by the SWA not to detail the individual components of two of their new bottlings, ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’ and ‘Flaming Heart’ as it contravenes the EU Spirit Drinks Regulation No 110/2008 (and the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009) which say that you are only allowed to state the age of the youngest whisky component in the ‘description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink, including advertising, promotion and images’.
Now funnily enough, my husband (who works at independent bottler, William Cadenhead) had been having a rant about these very regulations not that long ago (when I was writing my post about This is Not a Luxury Whisky in fact) and was wondering how Compass Box had got round them (although it now turns out they just ignored them). As Mark says, ‘I would love to put more information on the labels of our Cadenhead’s Creations, or any of our other blends, but I can’t unless all the whisky comes from the same year, which doesn’t happen very often. So as things stand I’m limited to just telling people the names of the distilleries in the blend. I think the regulations are ridonkulous (sometimes he makes up words! - ed.) and I can’t imagine any other food or drinks rulings that would encourage such a lack of transparency. I’m not saying you should have to give detailed information, but if you want to, and it is truthful, then it should be encouraged rather than be illegal. This rule stinks of Fifa! (I don’t do football so this reference is completely over my head - ed.)’
I totally agree with Mark here (which doesn’t happen that often!) - the rules are ridiculous. But, rules are rules (as I said before in my NAS post). For me, the interesting thing about this whole hoo-ha is the questions it raises;
Why the lack of transparency?
Firstly, the SWA are an industry body to protect the interests of the Scotch Whisky industry. Why is a lack of transparency in the industry’s best interests? Like Mark, I don’t think giving detailed information should be compulsory. For big, commercial blends it would be completely impractical and totally go against what they are all about - producing large volumes of a consistent product where the ingredients available to them may change but the flavour profile stays the same. But, and this is a big but, if producers do want to tell us exactly what is in their blend (or blended malt or single malt) then they should be allowed to do so.
Which brings me to the second question, who benefits from this lack of transparency? I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that maybe the big boys think that if listing all the components is allowed then that would be a step towards it being encouraged and that may lead to it being compulsory. And I can understand why blenders wouldn’t want to have to publish their recipes every time they do a new batch. Not just from the point of view of not wanting their competitors to have that information, but also because it would be a logistical nightmare!
Who grassed them up?
Next question, ‘Who dobbed Compass Box in, and why?’ Was it just a clever marketing stunt by John Glaser? If so, it hats off to him as it has certainly generated plenty of publicity! The SWA though, said they were acting following a complaint by a member. As far as I can see Compass Box are not members of the SWA, although I could be wrong on that one. Why would another whisky company complain about someone truthfully stating exactly what is in their blend, especially when that company is quite a small, niche producer, and unlikely to impact on any of the big boys global sales? Again, I can only think of the reason above.
Why do the rules not apply to everyone?
Finally, do the rules apply to everyone equally or are they only enforced if someone tells tales? To me, it certainly doesn’t look like a level playing field. I know that Compass Box have been told to stop advertising the truth (sorry, components in their blend) and that Arran stopped listing the different cask ages that went into the Devils Punchbowl (not sure whether the SWA forced that or not though). However, a quick google search reveals other companies that are also in breach of the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations;
I’m not singling these two companies out for any malicious reasons, these were just the first examples that I found. I’m sure there are others. Why has the SWA not told them to change their ways? Is it just because nobody has dobbed them in? If you are going to enforce a ridiculous rule, then it should be enforced across the board, not just when someone complains.
I have been moaning for quite some time now about the vast numbers of ‘luxury’ whiskies being released on the market which seemed to be more about the packaging and brand image than the product inside. To my mind, the word ‘luxury’ implied an element of quality or craftsmanship to justify the ridiculously high price tag. Compass Box’s new release inspired me to do a bit of research into what ‘luxury’ actually means, in the literal sense, and I must say I was surprised.
I checked 3 different English dictionaries; Chambers, Collins and the OED (I studied languages, I have a lot of dictionaries in the house) and not one of them mentions the word ‘quality’ in the definition. Expensive, rich, indulgent, yes. But not a word about being quality. I even checked the French Petit Robert and Spanish Santillana dictionaries (told you I had a lot of dictionaries) but no mention of quality there either. So I was wrong. Turns out a whisky doesn’t need to be quality at all to describe itself as luxury - a high price tag alone is justification enough it seems if we follow the dictionary definition.
In that sense then, Compass Box’s new release may not be considered ‘luxury’ - it’s £150 price tag, while not cheap, is fairly tame compared to many whiskies on the market these days.
The good thing about dictionaries though, is that they generally offer more than one definition. Another definition of ‘luxury’ is ‘something that is pleasant and enjoyable but not essential’. This definition pleases me a lot more. By that token, any whisky that brings enjoyment can be called ‘luxury’ regardless of how much, or how little, it costs. Of course, the question of whether it brings enjoyment or pleasure or not depends entirely on the individual, so everyone will have a different idea of what a ‘luxury’ whisky is to them.
So, by my reckoning, if you like Compass Box’s new release then it is a luxury whisky. If you don’t like it, it’s not. Simple! The same logic could apply for any whisky from the cheapest blend, to the most expensive single malt. Luxury, like beauty, would appear to be in the eyes of the beholder.
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.