Scotch whisky rules amended to "create more flexibility"

Scotch whisky can now officially be matured in a wider variety of casks - including those previously used to age tequila, mezcal, calvados, cachaca, shochu and baijiu – following a change in the law governing the industry.

An amendment to the Scotch Whisky Technical File, the document which is used by HMRC to ensure compliance with the main requirements for Scotch Whisky (and is essential for maintaining Scotch Whisky’s Geographical Indication status), has been lodged with the European Commission by Defra, and is now law, according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

The move will give increased flexibility to the industry and as a consequence this is expected to lead to more innovation. It is also aimed at helping the industry compete against the growing popularity of whiskies from other nations.

The new text in the File states: “The spirit must be matured in new oak casks and/or in oak casks which have only been used to mature wine (still or fortified) and/or beer/ale and/or spirits with the exception of: wine, beer/ale spirits produced from, or made with, stone fruits; beer/ale to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after fermentation; spirits to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after distillation; and where such previous maturation is part of the traditional processes for those wines, beers/ales or spirits.

“Regardless of the type of cask used, the resulting product must have the traditional colour, taste and aroma characteristics of Scotch Whisky.”

The changes allow Scotch to be matured in casks previously used for ageing a much wider variety of spirits.

To date the rules did not forbid the use of specific casks but distillers were advised by the SWA’s legal team to use casks with “sufficient evidence of traditional use”, such as ex-Sherry and ex-Bourbon casks.

Karen Betts, SWA chief executive, 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.”

Alan Park, SWA’s director of legal affairs, said: “A wide range of wine, beer and spirit casks have been used over the years to mature Scotch whisky, and clarity about what is allowed under the law should be provided in the Scotch Whisky Technical File.

“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 spirit casks which can be used, subject to a number of safeguards which protect the reputation of Scotch whisky.”

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