Saturday, January 31, 2009

Whats In A Whiskey? Or Should I Say Whisky

"It's, uh, it's green!"
-Scotty from Star Trek TOS

A lot of people from my generation would know Scotty from Star Trek TOS. You remember that guy - he was always the guy who had to fix the ship at the last minute or the universe was doomed. But did you know that Scotty aka James Doohan was actually a Canadian? In fact, there are a lot of Canadians who claim Scottish descent. 4.7 million actually. That's almost as many as there are Scots in Scotland. How about that! The immigrant Scots were mostly tenant crofters (farmers), who were evicted from their crofts to make room for sheep during the 19th century. This period was fondly remembered as the clearances and was highlighted by forced evictions, homelessness and general misery, but I digress. A large number of these evicted Scottish crofters eventually settled in Nova Scotia, Canada (New Scotland ). They maintained much of their highland culture along with their dialect and set about naming the towns and villages of their new home with what they felt was appropriate. To this day you can find names like Inverness and Culloden throughout Canada, especially in Nova Scotia.

There was one thing they did not bring with them however. Scotch. Nope the Scotch was inadvertently left behind, which brings me to the point of my little story. Now I'm well aware that the if you distill a Scotch outside of Scotland its not a Scotch. The Scotch Whisky Association has rights to the name and their lawyers will relentlessly sue anyone who tries to use the name. Fair enough. Call it a Single Malt Whisky then. But as one Canadian distiller discovered, even a vague association with scotch can bring the weight of the SWA down upon you. There is in Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island, a distillery located in a GLEN, named GLENora, which is in the town of GLENville, in the area known as GLENora Falls. In this Glenny place they distill a single malt whisky named ...Glen Breton, Glen for the glen, and Breton for the Island. Apparently the word GLEN has run foul of the SWA who claims that the word GLEN evokes the belief that consumers are buying a product that is made in Scotland.

OK hold the phone. Now I'm of Scottish heritage and the word Glen really doesn't evoke anything to me apart from the the fact that it is out of common usage. If Glenora had labelled their whisky "deep fried mars bar single malt" or "binge drinker single malt" or"men in skirts single malt" or even "Montrose is a hellhole single malt" that would evoke Scotland to me. Glen is well... a glen - the word is Irish in origin and has been used in the English language since 1490 - means a small valley The are 42 place names in Cape Breton Island with the name GLEN in them. Further I would have to be an illiterate ponce not to notice the big red maple leaf and the "Canadian Single Malt Whisky" lettering on the bottle. How could that confuse people to think that Glen Breton comes from Scotland?

Notwithstanding the obvious heritage of the distiller in the year 2000 the SWA objected to the use of the word Glen and contested Glenora's brand to the Canadian Trademark Authority, only to have the CTA reject their claim in 2007. Undeterred they appealed their claim in 2008 and won a decision in the federal court. Glenora appealed this decision and in 2009 the Federal appeal court reversed the 2008 decision and allowed Glenora distillery to retain its trademark name. Its unknown whether or not the SWA will appeal the Appeal Courts decision to the Canadian Supreme Court. They have two months to appeal the case.

So what do you think? Is the Canadian distiller being deceptively misdescriptive (legal parlance) or is the name Glen Breton a reasonable conjunction of place names given the location of the distillery?

This Glen Breton Single Malt Whiskey is not cheap by the way. Runs for about 90 CDN per bottle. The distillery can produce 25,000 bottle in a year which is really just a small sip compared to the 11 million bottles of scotch whiskey sold in Canada every year. I may have to pick up a bottle on my next trip to Canada - for research purposes of course!

References for this post can be found here, here, here, and here


schmerly said...

I'm a Rummy, no problem lah!!

pj said...

As am I. Barcardi 8 is my favorite only because I can't seem to find any Appletons round here. I'm not allergic to the occasional single malt though.

schmerly said...

pj I know Appletons Estate, that takes me back to 1999! the first time I found it was in a little village off-licence, I'd never heard of it before and I've never seen it since.

I'm a Captain Morgan drinker which Bart of Eastern Promise fame gets in from Singapore, I also like Woods 100 proof but it's loopy juice.