E-pistle 2009/01 – SWA; the Scotch Wankers Association *

By Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

The more I learn about the Scotch Whisky Association, the more I realise that its employees must be a bunch of mean wankers. If I hadn’t visited Scotland in the past, it would have been easy to assume that all Scotsmen & Scotswomen are like that. However, I’m happy to report that this is not the case. Most of the Scottish people I’ve met were friendly, generous people. Nevertheless, not all of them are. After all, there must be some basis for the stereotypical ‘mean’ Scotsman (just like I can personally confirm that there is a very solid basis for the stereotypical cheap, know-it-all Dutchman, by the way). A while ago our South African maniac Joe Barry passed on a story that was a perfect example of the lousy attitude that contributes to the unfavourable part of the stereotype.

Those of you that have been dramming for a few years may remember the ‘Glen Breton’ case from a few years ago. For those of you who are not familiar with the case, I’ve collected some useful links on Malt Maniacs & Friends on Facebook. I’ve just heard that a Canadian court of appeals has now dismissed most of the deranged arguments of the SWA. That means that Glenora distillery can use the name Glen Breton for their whisky without being bullied by the SWA. Excellent news – but I’ve just heard that the SWA has already found another candidate for their bullying on the other side of the world.

The South African businessman Dirk van der Walt happened to own a few old cars of the ‘London taxi’ type. While he was thinking about a name for a locally produced gin he wanted to bring to the market, it occurred to him that those old cars would make perfect promotional vehicles for his gin. So, he tried to register the trade mark ‘London Taxi’. It wasn’t long before Dirk received a threatening letter from the lawyers of the SWA. The letter claimed (among other things) that Dirk’s brand “(…) deceives or confuses customers as to the source of origin of the goods sold under this trade mark.”

Dirk was a bit astonished by the letter; he wanted to produce GIN, not whisky. After he asked for an explanation the reply was even more confusing; “(…) the name London Taxi quite clearly refers to the internationally famous black cabs in the capital city of the UK, and is therefore evocative of the United Kingdom. On account of this, and the United Kingdom’s reputation for Scotch whisky, consumers are likely to believe that any whisky upon which this trade mark is used is Scotch whisky”. What? Whaat? Whaaaat? A ‘mind map’ of an SWA employee or one of their legal minions must look like a painting made by Escher– while he had the flu and was drunk…

What’s more: they’re wagging around that old chestnut ‘consumer confusion’ again. It seems that whenever the SWA lacks sensible arguments to support their legal harassment and lobbying, they pull a bunch of confused consumers from their hat. They quote their own ‘research’ to support their claims, like they did in last years upheaval about the new categories they’re forcing down everybody’s throat. Interestingly enough, the results of our own research and that of other publications were very different from the results of the SWA’s research. Even more telling, when we asked some questions about that research of the SWA they were ‘not at liberty to divulge the details’. Yeah, right – isn’t that legal dialect for: ‘Well, we made it up – but you’ll never be able to prove it’?

So, who’s paying the SWA employees and their lawyers for their manipulations and schemes? Well, the SWA members, of course. And who’s paying those SWA members? Well, ultimately their customers pay the bills – that’s you and me. So, in a way, we’re actually paying them to screw us over! In this time of financial crisis many of us have to tighten our budgets. That goes for me as well, and with so many organisations willing to screw me over for free I’ve decided to stop paying the SWA and its members for the privilege – at least in 2009. It’s simply a luxury I can’t afford at the moment… Fortunately, that doesn’t mean I have to stop buying Scotch whisky altogether this year. For one thing, not all malt whisky distilleries in Scotland are SWA members…

If my information is correct, I can keep my conscience clean if I buy my whiskies from Arran, Benriach, Bladnoch, Bruichladdich, Dalmore, Edradour, Fettercairn, Glencadam, Glendronach, Glengyle, Glen Moray, Glen Scotia, Jura, Loch Lomond, Speyside, Springbank, Tamnavulin, Tomintoul and Tullibardine this year. What’s more, the results of the MM Awards have proven that they’ve learned how to make excellent whisky in Japan, Ireland, India and Tasmania in recent years. I haven’t been really convinced by the whisky made in the USA, Sweden, Germany, Holland and Belgium so far, but I’m keeping an open mind and my fingers crossed…

Needless to say, this little boycott of SWA whiskies is purely personal – and I may not even make it to the end of the year. (Most of) the other maniacs will happily continue to drink and review whiskies from the SWA members in this and upcoming issues of MM. Without a doubt one of the SWA members will release an whisky eventually that I’m too curious about to maintain my little one man boycott, but in the foreseeable future I will be looking elsewhere for my whisky fixes.

[* = Read this article at your own risk. The reader is responsible for all damage that might come from reading this article. I don’t actually know for a FACT that the SWA and its lawyers regularly perform the act of wanking – and if they indeed do, how good they actually are at it. So, me calling them wankers should not be taken as a statement of fact but rather as my purely personal opinion – like everything else in this article.]