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Issue 8 - Decoding labels

Whisky Magazine Issue 8
February 2000


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Decoding labels

he whisky label is a treasure trove of information if you know how to crack the codes. Graham Moore reveals all

Whisky brands emerged when the law first allowed the Scots to export whisky to England in bottles, as opposed to kegs, and merchants began to promote their own unique blends, creating for each an image that would identify their whisky the world over. Advances in printing technology led to the adoption in the late 1880s of wide-scale advertising, which played heavily on romantic images of Scotland, and much of the wording which appeared on the new labels, such as ‘special', ‘finest' and ‘oldest', survives to this day.

Today labelling plays an important role in the distillers' marketing strategy. Single malt whisky in particular is firmly placed in the luxury goods sector of the market, and the label can significantly enhance the impact of a product's branding. The consumer must be able to spot his favourite brand immediately on the shelf, and bottles and labels are designed to catch the eye of the undecided. Distillers give no less thought to changing a successful design than they would to changing the nature of the spirit itself.

However, the label is not simply an advertising device or marketing tool. There is much useful information to be gleaned from a whisky label. To understand this fully we need to know the legal definition of whisky itself, and this was defined by the Royal Commission of 1908, set up in the wake of the famous ‘What is Whisky?' case. The commission took 33 sittings over a period of 18 months to come up with its definition of whisky as being...

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