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Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Single-malt scotch enthusiasts rejoice with Diageo retreat

A QUESTION OF TASTE The alcoholic beverage heavyweight brought down the ire of the whisky making industry by blending its Cardhu brand and calling it ''pure malt''


Scotch malt whisky purists were toasting a notable victory on Thursday after a giant drinks multinational was forced to back down in a furious row over whether it had sullied the famous tipple's good name.

At a meeting of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in Edinburgh, alcohol heavyweight Diageo agreed to make significant changes to the packaging of one of its whiskies after accusations it was misleading consumers.

The argument began in July when Diageo introduced changes to its Cardhu brand, a "single malt," the most famous type of Scotch whisky in which the whole product comes from a single distillery.

With demand for Cardhu soaring, particularly in Spain where it is the top-selling whisky, Diageo began blending a series of whiskies to increase production, making it a so-called "pure malt."

This change in wording was given on labels, but otherwise the bottles and Cardhu brand were left the same, prompting accusations that Diageo was trying to tacitly pass off the new whisky as a single malt, thus diluting the purity of Scotland's most famous product.

Other SWA members cried foul, even threatening legal action against Diageo, whose other brands include Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Guiness, and J&B.

At the meeting, Diageo agreed to make significant changes to the packaging of the product to draw attention to the change in the whisky, although it will retain the same name, the SWA said.

"I am delighted that the SWA has managed to find a solution to this issue, which even only a short while ago looked to have polarized the industry to a degree that was unhelpful for everyone concerned," SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt said afterwards.

"I hope that this matter can now be put behind us and that the SWA and its members can concentrate on what we all do best, improving market access and increasing sales of Scotch whisky around the world," Hewitt said.

Earlier Thursday the head of William Grant, the fifth-generation family firm that makes Glenfiddich whisky, said Dia-geo's actions had caused a storm.

"I think it is a crisis for the entire Scotch whisky industry because we have built a very successful single malt category because of the reputation of single malt for authenticity and integrity," Tony Hunt told BBC radio.

Last month the row went all the way to the top when a Scottish lawmaker, Angus Robertson, asked British Prime Minister Tony Blair in parliament to help find a solution.

Blair promised to look into it, but confessed to being no whisky expert.

In another twist to the argument, Thursday's edition of The Scotsman newspaper set a whisky expert to work comparing the "single" and "pure" versions of Cardhu.

His verdict? The controversial new product is marginally better than the old.

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