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Saanich whisky distiller being sued by Scotch Whisky Association over use of Scottish words

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A legal battle is being fought between a small distillery in Saanich and the Scotch Whisky Association. The fight sparked by claims the company is branding its whiskies as Scottish, something that infringes upon trademark. Richard Zussman explains – Mar 23, 2021

When is a Scottish term more than just a Scottish term?

That is what the B.C. Supreme Court is set to determine.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is suing Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery in Saanich — and by extension owner, Graeme Macaloney — for the use of the terms Caledonian and Macaloney.

The SWA says it consistently takes action in global markets to prevent the use of Scottish indications of origin on whisky, which is not Scotch Whisky.

“This is vital to protecting both Scotland’s national drink and to ensuring that consumers across the world are clear about whether or not they are buying whisky that is produced in Scotland,” a statement from the association provided to Global News reads.

“It’s critical to us to ensure that spirits producers in other countries do not take advantage of the quality reputation of Scotch Whisky that our industry has built up over decades. It is important that anyone who wants to purchase a bottle of Scotch Whisky can do so with the confidence that what they are buying is authentic, and that products which aren’t Scotch Whisky are clearly differentiated.”

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The lawsuit alleges Macaloney is financially benefiting by using the term “Caledonian” and by referring to the whisky as an “Island Whisky.”

“The expression ‘Caledonian Whisky’ literally tells potential consumers that the associated products are whisky from Scotland,” the suit reads.

Caledonia was the Latin name for the region of Great Britain that includes most of Scotland. New Calendonia was a name given to a region of modern-day British Columbia in the 1800s.

But Macaloney says the lawsuit is nothing but a bullying effort from Scottish distilleries looking out for their own financial interests.

“It’s scary, you read these things and you get a lot of sleepless nights,” Macaloney said.

“Please leave us alone and let us get on with making award-winning whiskies and winners of some of the biggest awards in the world. It has been described as a bullying tactic. A David vs. Goliath situation because it could drag on for years. It could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Macaloney says he does not use the term “scotch whisky” on his bottles and clearly labels the product as being from British Columbia.

The Scottish ex-pat has lived in Canada for more than 30 years. The tours and branding associated with the whisky are done to show his heritage, but also promote the product is made on Vancouver Island with local ingredients.

“We have never sought to mislead the public. When you are building an award-winning whisky you need to be genuine about the providence of it,” Macaloney said.

“We have built this brand blood and sweat and love for Scotland and local British Columbian heritage. We talk about using grain from British Columbia.”

Davin de Kergommeaux, the author of the definitive guide to Canadian distilleries, said he warned Macaloney he was entering labelling territory that would land him in court.

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De Kergommeaux said he understands why the Scotch Whisky Association has filed the lawsuit. He says customers could easily be confused by companies using explicitly Scottish branding.

“People will buy it because it says scotch whisky or if they believe it is scotch whisky, simply because people believe scotch whisky is the best. It really adds tremendous cachet to the product,” de Kergommeaux said.

“I have waited for years for someone to nail them on this and I talked to Graeme about it and he just laughs it off.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Macaloney says he will defend his company’s current branding.

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