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Whisky From a German Glen? The E.U. Won’t Drink to That

June 6, 2018

Irregular Ingredients

The region’s highest court has also had to wade into the sticky issue of recipes, and how companies are allowed to label their products.

Glen Buchenbach whiskey produced by the German distiller Waldhornbrennerei prompted the Scotch Whisky Association to go to court.CreditWaldhornbrennerei

Last year, the European Court of Justice decided that labels such as “milk,” “butter” and “cheese” must have ingredients derived from animal products. That means a German company that sells dairy alternatives like “Soyatoo tofu butter” should not use the term “butter” while marketing its wares.

And in 2003, the court ended the so-called chocolate wars by deciding which products were worthy of being called chocolate. Officials in Spain and Italy had forced countries like Britain and Denmark to relabel their items as “chocolate substitutes” because they included vegetable fats other than cocoa butter. But the court eventually decided that this was an impediment to the free movement of goods.

Drinks and desserts are included in the regulations, too. In December, the European Court of Justice ruled that a German discounter was allowed to sell its “Champagner Sorbet” against the wishes of Champagne producers, who have been fiercely protective of their luxury brand — but only if the retailer could prove that Champagne was a distinct part of the flavor.

A Tall Order

In the case of Glen Buchenbach, the ruling focused more on how liberally companies can use words in their marketing than on how the product is made.

Scotch whisky is protected under rules on geographic identifiers, which require that the term can be used only for whisky made in Scotland that fulfills specific production criteria, like being matured for three years and having flavorings or sweeteners. The term “glen,” a Gaelic word that means “narrow valley,” is not specifically included in that protection.

Still, the Scotch Whisky Association has been vigilant in trying to protect its brand and reputation, and so took the maker of Glen Buchenbach, a small German distiller called Waldhornbrennerei, to court. It argued that by using the term “glen,” the German company had infringed on the protected status of Scotch whisky.