Whisky War Of Words Brews Between Scotch Whisky Association, Canadian Distiller

A tête-à-tête is brewing between a British Columbia distiller and the Scotch Whisky Association, and the litigious action boils down to a war over words.

Recently, the trade body known as the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) filed a lawsuit against Macaloney Brewers and Distillers, claiming they have violated Scotch whisky’s geographical indication by using words on labels and marketing that are “associated with the country.”

Specifically, the SWA is taking umbrage with “Caledonian,” “Macaloney,” “Island whisky,” and the word “Glen.”

Graeme Macaloney, owner of Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery and Twa Dogs Brewery in British Columbia, Canada, finds the lawsuit and litigious intentions of the SWA to be “a sort of a David and Goliath situation” where a $6-billion Scotch whisky industry is coming after the craft distillery sector in North America.

In particular, Macaloney says his single malt whisky garnering the World Whiskies Award for Best Canadian Single Malt and World’s Best Peated newmake has put a target on his distillery. “There’s definitely a bit of notoriety now, winning multiple golds for our whiskies will do that,” he said.

Invermallie single cask ex-Bourbon

Invermallie single cask ex-Bourbon (image via Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery)

But with nearly two thousand craft distillers on the North American continent, Macaloney said the SWA is better off looking to collaborate than litigate. “For goodness sake, the Scotch industry is living in a bubble. There’s so many craft distillers doing their thing, the best thing (the SWA) can do right now is coordinate with the craft industry rather than trying to hold back a rising tide of Scottish sounding names.”

This is not a new phenomenon, Macaloney pointed out, as Jamieson’s Irish Whiskey is named after its founder, the Scotsman John Jamieson, who emigrated to Ireland in 1780.

In a written statement, the SWA said it “consistently takes action in our global markets to prevent the use of Scottish indications of origin on whisky which is not Scotch whisky. This is vital to protecting both Scotland’s national drink and ensuring that consumers across the world are clear about whether or not they are buying whisky that is produced in Scotland.”

With Macaloney Distillers, the SWA claimed to object to the company’s use of certain words and terms that are strongly associated with Scotland on their whisky products.

“We never take legal proceedings lightly, and the SWA is always open to a resolution which protects both the Scotch whisky trade and consumers without the need for additional legal action,” the statement read.

Macaloney said his company “has never used the term Scotch on its own whiskies, but is proud to celebrate our heritage, including our Scottish ancestry and the story of our families, and I firmly believe we have the right to do so in a way that celebrates both that history and reputation as a leading Vancouver Island craft distillery.”

Macaloney said he, in fact, contacted the SWA in 2016 to find clarity and to better understand their label requirements. “And we were ‘open and transparent’ regarding the use of ‘Macaloney’ and ‘Caledonian’ on our branding,” he said.

At the time, in 2016, the SWA did not object to the words “Macaloney” and “Caledonian.”

It was in late 2019 when the SWA requested that Macaloney stop describing its master distiller as a “Scotch master distiller” and instead use the term “Scottish master distiller.”

That’s also when Macaloney said the distiller had agreed to prominently display the word “Canadian” on its whiskies.

“Our products’ labelling and packaging highlight that they are made in Canada and at the distillery in Victoria, British Columbia. A map of Vancouver is also displayed on the label,” Macaloney said.

Prior to taking on the distilling industry, Macaloney had a foot in the corporate world, with a background in the pharmaceutical industry. “I know both sides of the coin, and I don’t get the logic of these lawsuits,” he said. “I think it might be more institutional inertia, unable to come to terms with the explosion in craft whiskey.”

More influenced from Scotch whisky’s big corporate brand owners, he added, that appear to be stuck in an “old model.”

As Macaloney’s single malt gathers awards, it also has a large following. In Canada, the craft distiller is composed of 600 whisky enthusiasts brought together through a unique crowdfunding measure a couple of years ago.

Cumulatively, they made a sizable investment, Macaloney said, for the British Columbian distiller with a 5,500-liter wash still, and some of the biggest pot stills on the continent. This crowdfunding is still active and will be coming to U.S. whiskey enthusiasts soon, as Macaloney has detailed on their web site.

Aside from the hardware, Macaloney said he has the Scottish cred to boot. Hence the war over words. Macaloney’s whisky team is made up of Scots, including founder Graeme; former Diageo master distiller Mike Nicolson, who serves as master distiller; and the late Dr. Jim Swan, who acted as a consultant.

Macaloney called the challenge “unfair and unwarranted” regarding the distillery’s use of the word “island” as “Canada has as many, if not more, island distilleries than Scotland.”

Macaloney's stills

The stills at Macaloney’s (image via Macaloney’s)

The distiller also argued that the use of “Macaloney” refers to its founder’s last name.

Caledonia is also important to the brand’s story because of the founder’s heritage and home in British Columbia, which was originally called New Caledonia by settlers in the early 1800s, the distiller said.The use of ‘Glen’ and ‘Inver’ on some of Macaloney’s whiskies refer to specific valleys where the founder’s ancestors made history.

The term “Glen” is also used by other Canadian craft distillers, including Glenora Distillery’s Glen Breton whisky, which won a lawsuit against the SWA in 2009, the Macaloney noted.

On the legal front, Macaloney Distillers have hired lawyers, and they are pushing back. The case will go to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. But the stance is still for mediation.

“As we have done from the beginning, we will continue to work with the SWA and its members in a collaborative manner,” Macaloney said. “I just want to say to the SWA, ‘don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You’ve got 20 million ex-pats in the U.S. and Canada. You have a chance to collaborate and partner with craft distillers across the globe. You can be fighting international trade barriers, fighting counterfeit whisky, not bogged down with this.”

Letters of support have poured in from scores of whisky enthusiasts, whiskey clubs and whisky festivals that support Macaloney, going to the SWA offices. “We are making the public aware of this. Time will tell,” Macaloney said.

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