There are many laws regarding how whisky is made and sold and one of those laws has recently been opened for debate, Compass Box is all about the Scotch transparency issue.
This is the spirits transparency law that has been in place in both the UK and Europe for around 25 years.
Simply put, the law states that you cannot advertise any of the age or maturation period of a blend, except the youngest.
As John Glaser, founder of Compass Box puts it, “The law prohibits a spirits producer, in our case a Scotch whisky producer, from communicating the details of the ages of the components in our blend except for the youngest. You can only talk about the youngest.”
This means that blenders do not have the freedom to share all the details about their creations, only information about the youngest. This means that producers cannot be transparent about what exactly they put into their blends.
This law meant that when glazer and the folks at compass box released the blends “This Is Not a Luxury whisky” and “Flaming Heart” with full and detailed descriptions of everything that went into them, they were breaking this law.
They broke down every cask that was included in their blends, as well as how much they used and tasting notes for each.
They were soon notified by the Scotch Whisky Association that they were breaking the law and this sparked a campaign to transform the law so it no longer penalised producers who simply want to share their passion for their blends.
Compass box is leading this campaign and so far has support from Bruichladdich in their endevours.
It can be hard to see why this has been deemed illegal and easy to think that surely this is being upfront with the customer. Surely it is better and more enjoyable to include this kind of information and gives the customer the chance to see exactly that they are buying?
Unfortunately, as with most things, the actions of the few effect everyone.
This law is in place to stop shameless producers from exploiting the nature of blends. Since blends are concoctions of different grain and malt whiskies, you can add as much or as little of anything that works.
That means that without the transparency law in place, you could plausibly (and people have done it in the past) put a drop 25 year old in your blend and call it a 25 year old, when in fact it is mostly made up of much younger whiskies.
So in reality, there transparency law is there to protect the consumer, despite how it may seem.
The goal for the whisky industry now is to change that law to one that will allow producers like compass box to show their passion and love of blending on the label, without allowing more insidious producers to exploit that law.
There is also a fear within the industry that this transparency law may result in scepticism from consumers, as a reply of “it’s a secret” to a request for more information on the blend can seem reluctant to engage with audiences.
Another reason to change the law is the use of caramel colouring in Whisky. At the end of the maturation process the food colouring E105d is added to the Whisky to produce a browner colour.
This colouring has no real effect on the Whisky or its flavour other than changing the colour and is added to increase consistency or to make it look darker so people will think it is of a higher quality or older.
However, some customers are sceptical about the use of colour, which is fair enough and if you have any doubts yourself, the thing you can do is read up on it and decide from there.
Currently only Germany and Denmark have laws stating the added colours must be declared on the bottle and with a new transparency law, this could change for Whisky every where.