by Peter Swindon
February 18, 2018
The Scotch Whisky Association has launched a legal challenge against a German distillery’s use of the word ‘glen’ in the name of its signature single malt.
The European Court of Justice will rule this week on a dispute between the Association and Waldhorn, the maker of Glen Buchenbach.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) works to prevent unfair competition and protect the global reputation of the industry, which is worth almost £4bn in annual exports and supports upwards of 20,000 jobs.
The Sunday Herald has learned that the SWA’s Legal Affairs Department has launched a challenge based on a claim that the word ‘glen’ suggests the whisky comes from Scotland, which it says is an infringement of Scotch Whisky’s protected status under EU law.
Waldhorn Distillery’s website states that its product is “named after the Buchenbachtal”. The German for valley is Tal and Buchenbach is an area in the municipality of Berglen in the south-west of the Black Forest.
The Waldhorn website adds: “Glen comes from the Gaelic language and means valley.” Therefore, the English translation of Glen Buchenbach is Valley Buchenbach.
A spokeswoman for the Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed that the case would be heard by Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe on Thursday.
She added: “Scottish Whisky has protected EU status, which prevents foreign producers from selling versions of the product that have no link to their place of origin. The Scotch Whisky Association asserts that the use of the word ‘glen’ indicates that the whisky comes from Scotland, in infringement of the protected status.
“The referring German court essentially seeks clarification regarding the type of connection that there must be between a product and a word or other factor in order for there to be an infringement of EU protected status.”
Whisky consultant and author Blair Bowman said the case had echoes of a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association against the use of the word glen by the makers of a product called Glen Breton, produced by Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia.
SWA claimed that the use of the word ‘glen’ could lead consumers to believe it was Scottish malt, which it said was misleading, but several legal challenges were unsuccessful and Glen Breton has remained on the market.
In 2009 the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal ruled the word ‘glen’ does not infringe on the exclusive rights of Scotch whisky distillers because it does not connote that the product must come from Scotland.
Bowman said: “It’s very important to maintain the reputation of the Scottish whisky industry and if someone is clearly trying to pass off a product as Scottish whisky, that needs to be closed down. It’s a question of quality – it’s the Scotch Whisky Association’s job to ensure that every whisky that the consumer believes to be Scottish is of a high quality.”
He said that an increasing number of distillers outside Scotland now produce whisky. Bottles of Indian and Japanese whisky have featured labels with pictures of Highland mountains and glens in a reference to the heritage of Scotch.
“The manufacture of whisky around mainland Europe is exploding,” Bowman said. “Meanwhile, in Tasmania there are now 14 to 15 distilleries. Interestingly many are following Scotch Whisky Association rules and ageing whisky in oak casks for three years.”
But Bowman was quick to point out that the elements in Scotland – such as the water and the weather – gives Scottish whisky “a distinct flavour”.
An SWA spokesman said he would not comment on the Glen Buchenbach case as it is “current”.
However, he said the SWA “regularly pursues legal proceedings in global markets” to protect the Geographical Indication status of Scotch Whisky.
“This legal protection is the foundation on which our global export success is built,” he added.
Jürgen Klotz of Waldhorn, the maker of Glen Buchenbach, said: “We do not have any indication on our labels that our Whisky could be a Scotch. It is a shame for an organisation like the SWA to point out one word and to fix the fame of Scotch whisky to this word.”