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Canadian whisky-maker furious over Scottish threat to exports

Whiskies from Canada's Macaloney's Caledonian Distillery.
Whiskies from Canada's Macaloney's Caledonian Distillery.

A Canadian craft whisky firm is mulling a trade complaint to the European Union, claiming the industry in Scotland is trying to block exports to Germany.

Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery, based on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, said its German distributor was “threatened” with a lawsuit by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Sales of Macaloney’s Canadian Best’ single malt to Germany have, therefore, been suspended, it added.

The firm warned SWA’s “punitive” move was putting consumers’ access to “internationally recognised Canadian craft whisky” at risk.

I have every right to celebrate our heritage.”

Graeme Macaloney, Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery.

According to Macaloney’s, founded and led by expat Scot Graeme Macaloney, the potential lawsuit is the latest development in a long-running row over branding SWA says is “evocative” of Scotland.

SWA is trying to stop the whisky-maker using its founder’s name, as well as the words “island”, “Glenloy”, “Invermallie”, “Caledonian” and others.

What’s in a name?

The Canadian firm has been spurred on by a previous transatlantic whisky row over names that rumbled on for many years.

Canadian courts eventually decided in favour of Glen Breton whisky, from Glenora distillery, Nova Scotia, following a challenge by SWA.

The trade association in Scotland had claimed the whisky was misleading potential international buyers by using the term “Glen” in its name.

Mr Macaloney said his whiskies were named after locations in Scotland where his clan lived for upwards of 1,000 years.

He also said “Caledonian” was used by many British Columbia businesses after the original name for the province given by Scottish settlers.

“I have every right to celebrate our heritage,” he said, adding: “This kind of punitive act by the SWA, whose governing council is controlled by the four largest Scotch multi-national corporations, cannot be allowed to stand.

“To suggest that “glen”, originally an Irish word in common usage internationally by Scots and Irish diaspora, is inappropriate is resulting in international consumers being denied access to our Canadian Best, Glenloy and Invermallie whiskies”.

EU protection for Scotch

Scotch whisky and other products boasting “geographical indications” (GIs) are protected under EU law.

The legislation covers the use of names evoking an association with the protected GI.

A recent court case led to a ruling the use of “glen” as part of German whisky brand name Glen Buchenbach was not allowed.

It is important that anyone who wants to purchase a bottle of Scotch whisky can do so with the confidence that what they are buying is authentic.”

Spokesman, Scotch Whisky Association.

SWA regularly takes action to protect this country’s national drink from attempts to benefit unfairly from its worldwide reputation.

A spokesman for the trade body said: “This is vital to protect the best interests of our members, including small distilleries trying to build their brands and business in global markets.

“In taking any legal action, we want to ensure that consumers across the world are clear about whether or not they are buying whisky that is produced in Scotland.

“It is important that anyone who wants to purchase a bottle of Scotch whisky can do so with the confidence that what they are buying is authentic, and that products which aren’t Scotch whisky are clearly differentiated.”

‘We never take legal proceedings lightly’

He added: “In this instance, we have objected to the company’s use of certain words and terms that are strongly associated with Scotland on its whisky, when the company’s whisky is actually a Canadian product.

“We never take legal proceedings lightly and the SWA is always open to a resolution which protects Scotch whisky and consumers without the need for further action. We will continue with efforts to reach an agreement.”

The spokesman said there was “no live legal action in Germany”.

According to Macaloney’s, there have already been around 1,000 letters of complaint to SWA as part of a campaign against the trade group’s “protectionist” action.

In the meantime, the company is considering a formal complaint to German and EU trade commissioners and “working to level the playing field through public engagement”.


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