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What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

A recent trip to the beautiful island of Easdale, the smallest permanently inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides (and home to the World Stone Skimming Championships), prompted the content of this blog – what’s in a name? That’s it. That’s the question.

The impetus for this was the name of our rental cottage, An Lionadh. Apart from none of us knowing how to pronounce it, we all wondered what it meant. The cottage was located right next to the beach and the garden was the ‘lawn’ equivalent of an infinity pool, with views stretching right out to the ocean. In fact, it was so close to the sea that during a storm the windows on the west side would be soaked by the waves, giving the lucky inhabitants (us) a virtual reality experience, albeit from a safe, warm cottage.

After a quick online search, we discovered that An Lionadh means ‘flowing of the tide' or 'replenishing’, both of these meanings fitting perfectly with the position of this cottage (and immediately denoting to the Googler sense of what to expect).

What’s in a whisky’s name?

How might this apply to distilleries? Traditionally, whisky distilleries were generally named after their locations, be it the name of the farm, the village, their water source… there was little or no thought given to how the name would add to the brand character.  A quick look at a few of the top-selling Scotch Single Malt Whiskies and you can see how marketing has embraced these names by creating an inherent connection between the name and their product, affording the consumer a foothold for understanding the provenance of the distillery by conjuring up images of a pre-commercial world:

Glenmorangie 
Glen of Tranquillity. “Each taste recalls the quiet hillside glen where our pure spring water emerges...”

Glenfiddich 
Valley of the Deer. The silhouette of a deer adorns their bottles.

Glenlivet 
The oldest legal distillery in the parish of Glenlivet. Described by them as “the single malt that started it all.”

Fast forward to some of the more recent distilleries and this trend continues, albeit in a slightly more obvious format: Isle of HarrisAnnandaleBorders DistilleryIsle of RaasayLindores AbbeyClydeside.

There is something very reassuring about having a name that says what it is. (Edinburgh Whisky Academy, anyone? We are a whisky academy based in Edinburgh, what you read is what you get. Uncreative? Possibly. Straightforward and self-explanatory? Certainly.)

If we look further afield, we might find a recent example of the importance of the distillery name denoting certain factors to the brand story and whisky character. The award-winning Box Distillery, located on the north east coast of Sweden, recently rebranded as High Coast Distillery.  This change was seemingly done to halt any confusion between their whiskies and those of Compass Box.  However, Thomas Larsson, CEO of Box Distillery, commented, “with the name change, we will make our brand and distillery connection even stronger to the High Coast. We hope to see good market opportunities as we connect ourselves more closely to the High Coast and the unique values the area has.”

However, does the added value from the name, stem purely from the location or area of the distillery?

Take for example the recent Neachneohain, or Ncn’ean (abbr) Distillery, Gaelic for Queen of Spirits, an apparently legendary character who was strong, independent and never afraid to tread her own path, a quiet rebel and a fierce protector of nature. This name has no connection to the location yet reaches deep into the soul of Scotland and conveys an immediate added dimension to the character of the whisky in line with their innovative approach. Although one wouldn’t fancy trying to pronounce the name after a few drams…

The majority of the aforementioned newer distilleries have yet to bottle their whisky, so while the marketing departments are working hard on creating the brand character, we’ll have to wait and see how it marries with the taste of the finished product.

Maybe distillery names and whisky character are a work in progress and just like the maturation of the whisky, it will take time to forge a spiritual union between them.

What the Regulations say…

There are strict rules about distillery names in the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009:

7) Distillery Names

7.1 Regulation 9(1) makes it illegal to use as a brand name (or as part of a brand name) for a Scotch Whisky the name of any distillery listed at Schedule 1 unless the Scotch Whisky has been wholly distilled at that distillery. A similar provision applies to Scotch Whisky distilleries opened or reopened in the future (Regulation 9(2)).

7.2 Regulation 9(4) also makes it illegal to label, package, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way which is likely to deceive the public into thinking it has been distilled at any distillery other than the true distillery.

7.3 Regulation 9(5) makes it illegal to label, package, advertise and promote Single Malt Scotch Whisky or Single Grain Scotch Whisky in a way which is likely to deceive the public as to the identity of the distiller.

7.4 These provisions were introduced because complaints had been received from consumers who had bought a Single Malt Scotch Whisky sold under a brand name which they had understood to be the name of the distillery, which they later found was not the case. A fictitious example might be a Single Malt Scotch Whisky sold under the name GLEN DORNOCH. Because the names of many Scotch Whisky distilleries include the word “Glen”, and consist of geographical names, consumers might believe that the Single Malt Scotch Whisky had been distilled at Glen Dornoch Distillery, which does not exist.

7.5 The risk of deception would be even greater if the labelling of GLEN DORNOCH Single Malt Scotch Whisky featured a company or trading name such as “Glen Dornoch Distillery Ltd”. That would reinforce the assumption by the consumer that the Scotch Whisky came from Glen Dornoch Distillery.

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