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U.K. aims to put Scotch whisky counterfeiters on the rocks

Posting in Food

Scotch whisky is a $7 billion export industry. Like champagne, roquefort cheese and parma ham, the EU bestows it with geographical labeling privileges - you can't call it Scotch if it ain't Scotch. But that hasn't stopped counterfeiters from flooding the market with fakes. 

Now, Britain is cracking down (for those of you who need a reminder, Scotland is still part of the U.K.) The government is launching a public register of certified makers, the Wall Street Journal reports. The story notes:

Scotch whisky producers would have to volunteer to be checked by U.K. authorities, who would ensure the spirit is manufactured in Scotland and in accordance with strict EU guidelines, the government said. Those guidelines require whiskies be aged in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years to be considered legally Scotch, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, the industry body.

Scotch Whisky Association CEO David Frost welcomed the move. “Geographical indication status is of great commercial value to the Scotch Whisky industry," he said in The Scotsman. "This is a step change in the protection of Scotch Whisky and should be warmly welcomed."

The stories do not elaborate on where the faux Scotch is coming from, although The Scotsman claims that the industry "at any time is fighting 70 cases around the world against counterfeit products." For instance, China convicted a seller for adding artificial flavoring to spirits he labelled as Scotch, the BBC reported a year ago

With the brouhaha, the factoid of the day has surfaced: The U.K. levies nearly an 80 cent tax on sales of Scotch at home. 80 percent! Maybe Colorado legislators could use that as a model for their state's newly legal cannabis

The answer's a fairly obvious "no." For among other reasons: Domestic Scotch sales, which are only about 10 percent of overall sales, have been declining ever since the British government imposed yearly automatic tax increases five years ago.

But exports are growing, and Britain aims to keep them rising with its move to dump the phony elixirs, which cost the industry about $820 million a year, according to The Scotsman. The issue has huge economic relevance in Scotland, a country with a population of 5. 2 million people and where the industry employees more than 10,000 of them. 

As the WSJ noted, "Scotch was the U.K.'s 10th-biggest manufactured product by value of sales in 2012," and sales "exceeded vehicle parts and accessories."

Or, with apologies to Robin Hood, people around the world help enrich Scotland by giving a pour. Of the real thing.

Cover photo is from Cobalt123 via Flickr

— By on January 10, 2014, 4:51 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure