Americans challenge Europe
American distillers are set to step up their campaign to have American whiskey recognised in law in the same way as Scotch and single malt whisky is.
The Americans have taken their fight to the International Trade Treaty negotiations and say they are 'guardedly optimistic' that they will succeed in getting the category recognised. And they are prepared to offer a 'quid pro quo' deal which would allow world single malt whisky producers to sell spirit in to America under the same terms as Scotland and Ireland do.
But the fight could well turn bitter as the Scotch Whisky industry seeks to protect its industry from what it will see as a dumbing down of the current rules.
At the heart of the argument is that currently the European Union with backing from The Scotch Whisky Association defines what can and can't be called a whisky in Europe. And the rules state that a spirit must be matured for at least three years.
The new American distillers accept that European whisky and even single malt whisky should be bound by these rules, but argue that some spirits matured for less than three years in America are legally recognised as American whiskeys and should be allowed to be sold in Europe as such. Bourbon needs to be matured for days before it can take the name, and straight bourbon two years.
American distillers are angry that they must remove the word 'whiskey' from their packaging.
"You try to convince a pernickety consumer bent on a bottle of whisky to buy a bottle of aged grain spirit instead," says Raloph Erenzo, partner and distiller at Tuthilltown Distillery in New York, whose whiskeys go on sale in the United Kingdom in June.
"Though it is legal in the US as whiskey, and it is explicitly recognized in EU law as an American spirit made under US regulations and sold as whiskey throughout the US, our legal young whiskey may not be sold as whiskey or whisky in the EU unless it meets the EU ageing requirement. That is NOT recognition."
The Americans argue that the rules are just wrong, and point to the anomaly the other way round. Under the rules all single malt whisky must be matured in virgin oak to be sold in America, a requirement that is all but impossible if the spirit is to be matured in Europe for three years.
But the rules do not apply to Scotland and Ireland - so English, Welsh, Swedish and Australian single malt whiskies face an unfair barrier to trade.
"So the EU market is closed to whiskey makers in the US making young legal American whiskeys; and the US market is closed to all producers of malt whisky in the EU which are not exempt from the new oak rule. We think both the EU and the US should amend their regulations. The US should broaden the exemption to include all EU producers of malt whisky. And the EU should fully recognize American Whiskey in its legal entirety and permit American producers of legal American whiskey types to call their whiskeys by their rightful name: Bourbon Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Wheat Whiskey, Malt Whiskey."
The issue is now before the International Trade Treaty negotiations among the various trade partner nations. An Atlantic Trade agreement is being composed now and this issue is on the table. The European Union is adamant it will not eliminate the three year age requirement. The United States is requesting full recognition of American Whiskey as a 'type' and exempt from the three year age rule; and the USA is proposing the broadening of the exemption from the 'new oak' rule for all EU producers of malt whisky.
"I am guardedly optimistic," says Erenzo. "It is the right thing to do for both parties: US and EU producers. I guess the real question is how much do EU producers want access to the US consumer for their malt whisky products and is that access worth going up against the powers that be in the EU whisky community which seems to believe the only way to protect the 'integrity' of Scotch and Irish whiskies is to insist that everyone conform to the Irish and Scotch definition of whisky or whiskey whether or not you are producing an EU whisky."
Watch this space.
First cracks appear in American craft movement
A new craft distilling association was launched in the United States in April - signalling that the first cracks may be appearing among the The United States small spirits producers.
The American Craft Distillers Association has broken away from the American Distilling Institute and would seem to share main of the original organisation's aims. But there would seem to be two fundamental differences, one stated and one not. The first is that all members of The ACDA are distillers and actually making spirit. The second is that the ACDA seems to be deliberately distancing itself from the sizeable number of American companies which are making poor products or passing off products as their own when they are clearly not.
Regular readers will know that Dominic Roskrow set up up the British based Craft Distillers Alliance and two distilleries which are members of The CDA have committee members the new association, while Dominic is in close contact with another, Chip Tate of Balcones.
The CDA expects to make an announcement about its relationship with the new association in early May.