By Dominic Roskrow

What a mix up

When is a blend, not a blend? When it's a vatted malt.
When is a blend, not a blend? When it’s a vatted malt. For the Scotch Whisky Association has decided that the best way to end the confusion over definitions of various styles of whisky is to redefine ‘vatted malt Scotch whisky’ as ‘blended malt Scotch whisky’. This is to distinguish them from ‘blended Scotch whisky’.Am I missing something here?As I understand it the move to clear up misunderstandings and ‘grey areas’ was as a result of the Cardhu row from a while back. If you recall, there were two main objections to Diageo’s plan to turn a single malt whisky product called Cardhu in to a vatted product.First, that the new vatted product was continuing to use the name ‘Cardhu’ even though the product was no longer from one distillery. And second, it was describing the new product as ‘pure malt’ as opposed to ‘single malt.’ Both these factors resulted in what was at best confusing to the general public and at worst, downright misleading. It was decided that something had to be done.So the SWA has now proposed a code of practice that rightly says it is no longer acceptable for a product from various distilleries to bear the name of just one. So far, fine. Its attempt to clear up the definitions, though, is a total mess.The phrase ‘blended malt Scotch whisky’ – or ‘blended malts’– is misleading and inappropriate because it takes the one word that was previously well-defined in all this – blends – and allows it to cross the river from the bank marked ‘malt and other grains’ to the one marked ‘just malts’.Effectively it erects a fence between a product from one distillery and one from several, instead of fencing off products which contain just malt whisky from those that contain malt and other grains.Surely no one can argue that this realignment is easier to understand? If you don’t agree, just ask 10 non-experts in what way blended whiskies are different to blended malt whiskies.The term ‘blended malts’ is awkward and cumbersome. And what do you think the abbreviated version of the term will be? I am yet to find anyone who thinks the new labelling is better than the old and will clear up the issue of definitions once and for all. And believe me, I’ve tried.So does any of this matter, or are we being pedantic about a subject the general populace couldn’t give two figs about? I think it does, especially when confusion about alcohol exists in the minds of the general public already.Take the reaction to a recent report in the medical journal The Lancet, which concluded that alcohol causes more harm to people than tobacco or high blood pressure. On the day the report was published there was a call for a major hike in tax on bottles of strong spirits.Most abuse, however, stems from binge drinking among the young.We should be very worried by this sort of ill-informed, knee-jerk reaction, particularly in Britain. There’s a British General Election on the horizon, and if the current Government wins again it will find itself short of money and unable to raise direct taxes. So what about higher spirits duty for the health of the nation as spirits go the same way tobacco has?We must outline the premium nature of quality whisky, and why we need to draw a clear distinction between the quality premium end of our market and the cheaper massconsumption products. The new definitions do not help in this purpose. And for that reason we think they should be reassessed.