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Scotch snobs shudder as Glen Breton toasts win Add to ...

It was barely a few hours into the business day Thursday morning and Bob Scott was cradling "a wee dram" of whisky at the offices of his small Cape Breton distillery, celebrating the end of a long legal battle over the use of a single word.

Mr. Scott's company, Glenora Distillers International Ltd., won a major victory Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal that could have blocked the company from using "Glen" in the name of its Glen Breton Rare whisky.

For nine years, the Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association has fought to protect the Scottish integrity of the "Glen" name, which its members say implies a connection to household names in Scotch, such as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.

From Parma ham to parmesan cheese, food makers around the world are battling to claim the proprietary rights to brand identities linked to a product's place of origin. In the wine world, for example, the notion of terroir denotes the special character of the land where certain wines are made.

The decision could pave the way for big changes for the Cape Breton distiller.

By allowing Glen Breton to be registered as a trademark, the tiny, 35-person distillery can market its whisky more aggressively on a global scale.

"We have no objection to the production of single malt whisky in Canada," said the association's spokesman David Williamson. "What is of concern, though, is any product that tries to take unfair advantage of Scotch whisky's international reputation by adopting a Scottish-sounding name."

The Glenora distillery produces 250,000 litres of whisky a year and started production in 1990. It is made up of seven buildings, including warehouses and its own bottling facilities, on 300 acres. Tourists can stay at the small inn on site, which also has a pub and a restaurant.

Glen Breton is sold in Canada, the United States and Europe, with a minor presence in Asia, but Glenora president Lauchie MacLean said the legal challenges had worried importers and made it difficult for the company to market its whisky as widely as it would have liked.

Glenora will now focus on marketing Glen Breton in China and Taiwan, and expanding its presence in Japan. Mr. MacLean also said he hopes to make the brand more publicly recognizable in Europe, where it is mostly sold in specialty stores.

"Glen" figures prominently at Glenora, whose main product, Glen Breton Rare single malt, takes its name from its hometown of Glenville, N.S., a small hamlet just south of Inverness.

The territorial nature of some products is legally protected in the European Union, which regulates certain food and drink whose brand is strongly tied to their regional character.

Scotch whisky falls under this protection, and can only be made in Scotland.

"We've been working to protect Scotch whisky around the world for many, many years," Mr. Williamson said. "There is evidence that the market was confused by [Glen Breton's]trademark. Consumers thought they were buying a Scotch whisky, but they were really getting something else."

Scotch whisky is sold in almost 200 countries and is Scotland's largest export. It also represents 25 per cent of the United Kingdom's food and drink exports, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

Glenora is looking for a slice of that international market.

"We're excited about moving forward with huge world opportunities ahead of us," said Glenora's vice-president Bob Scott. "That's what it's all about; our message is, try this unique product from Canada."

After four levels of court challenges, Mr. Scott acknowledged that legal costs have hurt the small company. And more may be on the way.

"We'll be opposing applications to register the marque in any country where confusion is likely in the future," Mr. Williamson said.

But Mr. Scott sounded only optimistic as he celebrated with his Glen Breton - neat.

"We're just ecstatic. It's a really huge victory for us," Mr. Scott said.

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