Scotch Whisky Association accepts new flexible guidelines

Whisky Barrels

The Scotch Whisky Association have been known to diligently and rightfully preserve and protect the Scottish ways of whisky making. Over the years, things have not changed when it comes to the strict and intricate legal requirements that are required to make Scotch whisky but in a landmark decision this year, some new modifications have been accepted by the organization responsible towards protecting the sanctity of this glorious spirit.

What is the Scotch Whisky Association?

A trade organization that was formed in 1942 with an objective to represent the Scotch Whisky industry at large. Since Scotch is one of Scotland’s most important exports and a key contributor of the Scottish economy, the Scotch Whisky Association plays an integral part in protecting its interests.

The Scotch Whisky Association is headquartered at Edinburgh, Scotland. More than 2500 brands are a part of the Scotch Whisky Association, which makes up roughly 95% of the entire industry.

The body had devised a list of legal requirements and definitions for Scotch whisky termed the Scotch Whisky Regulations in 2009. As part of the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, the definition for Scotch whisky was listed as the following;

  • Wholly produced, distilled and bottled in Scotland. Whisky produced anywhere else in the world cannot be called ‘Scotch’.
  • Should be distilled from a mash bill that must contain water and malted barley with some other whole grains also allowed.
  • The mash bill must be fermented only using yeast.
  • The mash must be distilled to an alcohol by volume strength no less than 94.8% ABV.
  • The distilled spirit must be matured in Scotland. It must be matured only in Oak barrels with a capacity no more than 700 Litres.
  • The spirit must be matured for a period no less than three years.
  • The spirit must retain the characteristics of the raw materials used for the mash.
  • No added colour or flavouring shall be added to the spirit before it is bottled except for permitted food grade caramel colouring (E150A).
  • The matured spirit must not be bottled at an alcohol by volume strength less than 40% ABV.

These were the existing legal requirements laid out by the Scotch Whisky Association as part of their Scotch Whisky Regulations statutory instrument.

This year, the body have accepted some new, flexible guidelines that can allow Scottish distilleries and Scotch whisky brands to have more creative control over their products, adding a breath of fresh air into the Scotch whisky industry.

New Guidelines

The new guidelines accepted by the Scotch Whisky Association will allow distilleries and other Scotch whisky brands can now choose from a greater variety of used barrels, i.e. barrels that have been used to mature Agave based spirits such as Tequila, Schochu, Calvados and more.

Glenlivet 18

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old is a fine example of a Single Malt Scotch whisky finished in ex-Sherry barrels for a combination of flavours and aromas.

In addition to specifically mentioning the acceptable use of certain kinds of used barrels, the new amendments also strictly specify the reuse of certain barrels. The prohibited barrels include the ones that were used to mature certain spirits such as Gin, Cider and any other kind of drink that involves added flavours and colours during fermentation, distillation or maturation.

The used barrels that can be used to finish and mature Scotch whisky from now onwards are;

  • Ex-Wine barrels, still or fortified.
  • Ex-Sherry barrels
  • Ex-Beer and Ale barrels
  • Ex-Tequila barrels
  • Ex-Port barrels
  • Ex-Bourbon barrels

Any evidence of traditional barrel use for a particular type of spirit or alcohol based drink makes the barrels eligible for use for maturation and finishing of Scotch whisky.

“The amendment is consistent with the continued use of all those categories of casks where there is evidence of longstanding traditional use in the industry. But it will also create more flexibility, particularly in the range of spirits casks which can be used, subject to a number of safeguards which protect the reputation of Scotch Whisky.” adds Alan Park, the Director of Legal Affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association. source - https://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk/newsroom/scotch-whisky-technical-file-amended/

Chivas Regal Extra

Another excellent example of a Scotch whisky that has been finished in an ex-Sherry barrel. The Chivas Regal Extra is a blended Scotch whisky with no-age-statement that was released by the luxury whisky makers a few years ago.

The unprecedented move has ushered in a wave of positivity among Scotch whisky brands and distillers in the industry. It has the potential to promote creativity and open up new avenues of Scotch whisky maturation through a fruitful partnership with the spirits industry worldwide.

Karen Betts, Chief Executive at the Scotch Whisky Association opines, “Chief Executive of the SWA, Karen Betts said: “This amendment provides clarity and some additional flexibility on the range of casks in which Scotch whisky can be matured.  The change is consistent with Scotch whisky’s heritage and traditions, and strengthens our foundations into the future.” source - https://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk/newsroom/scotch-whisky-technical-file-amended/

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