European Booze Makers

As the EU continues to unite Europe, makers of our favorite liquids are trying to make sure that their places in the market are secure.

In recent ruling by the European Parliament, Scottish whisky makers were gratified to see restrictions placed on products labeled whisky.  In response to a sweetened French spirit labeled “whisky,” Scottish distillers sought and won restrictions barring any sweetened or flavored products to carry that word.  Polish and Scandinavian vodka makers were less pleased with the ruling on vodka labeling.  They have maintained that vodka can only be made from potatoes or grains but other distillers have been labeling booze made from sugar beets and molasses “vodka” and the European Parliament protected their right to do so, provided that they also clearly state on the label the source product.  Hmmm, sugar beet martini, anyone?

I suppose rules need to be set but this rush to so precisely label products by the EU seems a little much.  The basic argument is that these names or labels would be cheapened if they are allowed to be made of inferior products or, in the case of regional distinctions like Champagne, made in the wrong place.  It’s a baseless argument in my mind.  Have you ever said to yourself that you’ll never again eat apples because you ate one bad one?  No, that’d be silly.

This is a separate issue from copying a competitor’s label.  If you bottle an inferior Scotch and copy Johnny Walker’s label so you can sell it then that is clearly wrong.  JW has worked long and hard for the piece of the market they enjoy.  To try to cut in line like that is not just cheap; it is and should be criminal.

But back to the main point – should whisky be restricted to the narrow definition of Scottish whisky producers?  I would be supremely annoyed if I brought home a bottle of the French stuff only to find it sweetened and I would likely never by it again.  But the experience would in no way affect my opinion of whisky in general; I would just read the labels more carefully in the future.  From that perspective, it is in the sweet whisky maker’s interest to clearly explain how it is sweetened on the label.  Then purists could steer clear while those looking for a little sugar in their whisky could give it a try.

This is starting to sound suspiciously like a “trust the market” argument and I suppose it is.  It also seems like these restrictions could restrict innovation besides being a little silly and wasting a lot of time and resources.

Leave A Response