Monday, May 29, 2017

"Scotch" Isn't a Type of Beverage - It's More Like a Trademark

"I'll have a Scotch."

"I like Scotch."

Most people who say these things probably don't understand or mean exactly what they are saying.

By "Scotch", they should mean "Scotch whisky", and there are legal requirements that must be met in order to call a beverage "Scotch whisky" that have nothing to do with how it is produced or what it tastes like.  The requirements in terms of raw materials and production process are a topic for another blog.  But in addition to those, in order for a whisky to be called "Scotch whisky" it must be distilled in Scotland, aged for at least 3 years in an oak cask in Scotland and matured only in Scotland.  So if you have whisky produced from barley grown in Scotland and distilled and aged for 20 years in Scotland, and then ship that whisky to a location just across the border in England where it sits for a few months maturing further and then bottle it (which would be illegal), that is not "Scotch" - it's just "whisky".  If you instead shipped it to a different location a few feet away but barely inside the Scottish border, then it is "Scotch whisky". More importantly, if you were to use exactly the same raw materials, equipment and processes and produce a whisky in Ireland, Japan, India, the United States, etc. that is chemically indistinguishable from and tastes exactly the same as a Scotch whisky, it could not legally be called "Scotch".

Why do so many people make this mistake?  It's because for so long, when it comes to its particular style of whisky, Scotland's whisky was very distinctive from other whiskies and totally dominated the world market.  Generally  there was not a lot of confusion in thoughtlessly referring to "Scotch".  You see this same thing happening with trademarks.  "Ping Pong" is technically a trademark for a particular brand of table tennis equipment, "Escalator" was a trademark for a particular brand of moving stairs, and 'Kleenex" is a trademark for a particular brand of tissue.  The same goes for "zipper", "aspirin" and "thermos".  But in recent years there has been a great proliferation of fine whiskies made in other countries using similar raw materials, equipment and processes, so it is becoming a more and more common mistake to wrongly refer to "Scotch".

Lest you think that the Scotch whisky industry would be proud to have the term "Scotch" be synonymous with whisky having certain characteristics, be aware that one of the principal purposes of the main association of Scotland's whisky producers, the Scotch Whisky Association (and its small army of lawyers), is "to stop any misrepresentation that states or suggests a whisky is Scotch Whisky . . . when that isn't the case."

So, sorry, while it is easy to shorthand things by referring to whisky tasting generally a certain way as "Scotch", please don't forget about the many fine whiskies from other countries, but don't refer to them as "Scotch" either unless you really are specifically referring to "Scotch whisky"!

P.S. Why do you think my blog is "Whisky with Ward" and not "Scotch with Ward"? (Other than the alliteration thing.)

P.P.S. Why it's "Whisky with Ward" and not "Whiskey with Ward" is a topic for future blogs.