I was recently asked at a training event, for clarification on the information provided on a Scotch whisky label. So I thought it would be useful to clarify as there must be more people out there with similar questions…
The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (Citation 2009, No. 2890) is a Statutory Instrument that regulates the production, labelling, advertising and packaging of Scotch whisky. The regulations were laid before the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 30 October 2009, and came into force on 23 November 2009.
This replaced the Scotch Whisky Act 1988 and the Scotch Whisky Order 1990 and introduced legislation governing how Scotch whisky should be labelled, packaged and advertised, which had not been the case previously, as it only governed on how it should be produced.
Regulation 8 makes it compulsory for every Scotch whisky to bear on the front of the bottle, and also on any individual packaging, the category to which that Scotch whisky belongs (as per picture above), i.e. “Single Malt Scotch Whisky”, “Single Grain Scotch Whisky”, “Blended Scotch Whisky”, “Blended Malt Scotch Whisky” or “Blended Grain Scotch Whisky”.
A Blended Scotch whisky brand, such as High Commissioner (pictured above) will display the information shown above on its label such as the type of Scotch whisky, name of brand, size of bottle and alcohol by volume (ABV). Note that for a whisky to be called Scotch, it has to have been ‘manufactured’ in Scotland as defined by the regulations.
For more information on the basics of Scotch whisky – please read the blog post ‘Scotland in a glass – A Beginner’s Guide to Scotch Whisky’
For stating the content of the bottle different units are permitted. Bottles may be labelled as 100cl or 1 litre, for example. Interestingly, the letter ‘e’ behind the content statement refers to the measurement of the volume and it stands for ‘estimated’, since there are always small inaccuracies in the technical processes.
A Single Malt Scotch whisky brand, such as Glen Scotia from the Campbeltown region (pictured above) will display the information shown above on its label such as the type of Scotch whisky, name of brand, age in years if stated, size of bottle and alcohol by volume (ABV). Note that for a Scotch whisky to be called a Single Malt, it has to follow the regulations such as described below.
“Single Malt Scotch Whisky” means a Scotch Whisky that has been distilled in one or more batches –
(a) At a single distillery;
(b) From water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals; and
(c) In pot stills;’
The age statement on the label indicates the youngest whisky used for the bottling of the product. Single malt scotch whisky may also contain whiskies of different ages, but they are all from a single distillery.
There are a number of Scotch whisky products with ‘no age statement’ also referred to as NAS. This does not mean that the product has not been aged or matured in casks. For information on the debate around NAS – please find a link to a previous posting entitled ‘The Scotch Whisky NAS Debate’.
Single Cask (usually at Cask Strength) bottling refers to scotch whisky filled into bottles straight from the cask and without dilution i.e. the addition of water. These typically have a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) then the usual 40% to 46% ABV found on the main range from Scotch whisky brands. You will also notice that you can usually find more information on a single cask bottling label.
Note that some Single Cask bottlings may have their abv adjusted, such as by adding water to reduce its alcohol strength. An example for this could be because of the market requirements – my understanding is that in India the strength has to be below 50% abv, and therefore a Single Cask would need its abv reduced to comply with the market requirements.
The Single Cask is by its very nature limited to a finite number of bottles, the example above had 278 bottles released and sold exclusively at the World Duty Free store at London Heathrow Terminal 5. The demand was such that it was sold out in less than 1 week!
One interesting point on the Scotch whisky regulation is that the nature of how a distillery’s name can be used is also protected.
‘The name of a distillery mentioned… must not be used as a brand name, or as part of a brand name of a Scotch Whisky, or be used in a similar fashion in terms of its positioning or prominence, unless the whisky has been wholly distilled at that distillery.’
As the Scotchwhisky.com article on ‘The Laws of Scotch: Labelling’ states: “In practical terms, this means you can’t have a single malt bearing the name of a distillery and also have a blend with the same name, or have a blended malt using the name of a single distillery.”
This is because all of the scotch whisky would have to be distilled at a single distillery which is much more practical for the Single Malts than it is for a Blended Scotch whisky brand.
There is one exception, Loch Lomond Signature blended scotch whisky (pictured below).
It is able to have the name of the distillery on its label as both the grain and malt scotch whisky going into the bottle, come from the same distillery: Loch Lomond Distillery.
Note that there are only 7 (seven) grain whisky distilleries in Scotland. For more information, check out the blog posting: ‘Grain Distilleries and the Scotch Whisky Industry’