Scotch whisky has long been regarded as being made in only one place. Scotland.
That is largely due to the vigilance of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), a feisty trade group that rigorously monitors the world spirits industry to be sure no one is trying to pass off their wares as “true Scotch whisky” without it being precisely that.
I was chatting over cocktails the other day with Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the SWA and a man who knows a thing or three about global trade. He has headed the organization since 2003 and concurrently has been president of the European Spirits Organisation since last November. Before that, he was the British ambassador successively to Croatia, Finland and Belgium, and worked in a number of other diplomatic postings around the world.
Our topic was regulation in the manufacture and quality of various spirits, and cachaça, the distilled sugar cane liquor, was cited as a prominent example, particular with the upcoming visit to the White House of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Cachaça is the base for the caipirinha cocktail (right) that has so enamored tourists to South America in recent years that they demanded it when they returned home. That demand has been answered in many of the better cocktail lounges and bars throughout the U.S.
In my view, that means those consumers should be able to know the source of the cachaça is held to certain standards in purity and safety rather than being just anything tossed together and put in a pretty bottle. After judging several cane spirit competitions, I can attest to the fact that the latter has been the case too often and that quality has often been wildly erratic. Hewitt concurred.
“We do need some sort of uniformity in quality for such spirits,” he said. “I’m not in favor of government or industry over-regulation, but there is the matter of safety and value for the money.”
There are as many as 2,000 different names for cachaça in the vernacular, according to one authoritative Brazilian publication. Many cropped up over the years as illicit distillers sought to call their distilled sugar cane something that would not attract the attention of government tax collectors and regulators or even back in the days when the spirit was banned.
Now, the matter of quality seems well on its way to being addressed. In recent days, the U.S. and Brazil have exchanged letters of intent to increase trade in cachaça — the bulk of which is made in Brazil — and bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. This was part of President Rousseff’s visit and various trade agreements discussed at the time between the two huge nations.
[Go here for the rest of the story.]
Check out my New York Drinks Events Calendar, the most comprehensive anywhere.