January 25, 2018

NO. If You’re a Purist About Scotch Whisky, You Might Find This Hard to Swallow.

The making of Scotch whisky has long followed a precise formula enshrined in law and precedent. Scotch must be distilled in Scotland from water and malted barley and aged in the country at least three years in oak casks. It should come out at least 40% alcohol by volume.

Now Diageo PLC, the world’s single biggest producer, wants to water down some of those rules, part of its attempt to arrest Scotch’s declining market share. Last year, it formed a secret task force to explore ways to change some industry rules about how Scotch must be made.

One idea was to finish aging Scotch in old tequila barrels instead of the sherry, cognac or port casks traditionally used. Another was to create a “Scotch whisky infusion,” a new category of flavored or low-alcohol blends sold under existing Scotch brands.

Diageo’s efforts to win over the Scotch Whisky Association, which lays down rules for distilling the spirit—at least on its tequila-barrel idea—are already on the rocks.

“There is not a single chance of a change of the rules,” says Gavin Hewitt, a former British diplomat and onetime chief executive of the SWA. “Whoever is saying that is talking through a complete hole in their head.”

Well, good. While it might goose sales in the short term, brand dilution in pursuit of marketshare is a huge mistake in the longterm.

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