American Whisky in South Africa - Legal or not?

American Whisky in South Africa - Legal or not?

Published : 31-01-2020 - Categories : Commercial Distilling , Craft Spirits , Legislation

As the Craft Spirit Market grows, and South African consumers are being exposed to more new and interesting products and brands - the opportunities for exports to South Africa from foreign Spirit Manufacturers have grown.

We have seen this with imported Gins, obviously, and more recently a great number of imported Rums, but what has gone a little unnoticed is the large influx of imported Whisky's and Bourbons. 

Why unnoticed? 

Because these products have always been imported (with some rare exceptions) hence it does not raise many eyebrows. 

However, if you were to walk into one of the larger Liquor Stores, and instead of just walking to the shelf and grabbing your usual bottle, take a moment to really take in what is now available, you would be stunned by large number of new products in your Whisky aisle - specifically from the United States.

Unfortunately however, many of these products should not be on the shelves.

   

Are these American Whisky's Legal in South Africa?

The way international Liquor Laws work (or should I rather say - should work) is that if you export spirits to a country, or any alcoholic product for that matter, that product needs to comply to the Spirit Legislation of the country to which you are exporting. NOT necessarily to the spirit legislation of the country of production. 

Now, as mentioned in previous articles, the South African Whisky Law states the following:

  • Whisky shall be produced from a mash of grain in which the diastase of the malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes, has brought about sugar conversion; which has been fermented by the activity of yeast; and which has been distilled at less than 94,8 per cent alcohol by volume so that the distillate has a flavor and taste originating from the raw material used
  • Malt whisky  shall be produced from a mash of malt in which the diastase contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes, has brought about sugar conversion; which has been fermented by the activity of yeast; and which has been distilled in a pot-still so that the distillate has a flavor and taste originating from the raw material used;
  • Blended whisky shall consist of a mixture of at least 25 per cent, calculated on the basis of absolute alcohol, of malt whisky and not more than 75 per cent, calculated on the basis of absolute alcohol, of whisky
  • All categories of whisky shall be matured for at least three years in wooden casks with a capacity of not more than 700 liters
  • Whisky produced in the Republic shall be matured in a customs and excise warehouse in wooden casks approved for this purpose by the Commissioner of Customs and Excise.
  • Whisky shall have an alcohol content of at least 43 per cent Alcohol by Volume.

The important thing here to note is point 4 - All categories of whisky shall be matured for at least three years in wooden casks with a capacity of not more than 700 liters.

Let us now compare this to American Whiskey Legislation:

    

CLASS GENERAL CLASS DEFINITION TYPE GENERAL TYPE DEFINITION
               
Whisky   Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof) Bourbon Whisky Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers
Rye Whisky Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent rye and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers
   
Wheat Whisky Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent wheat and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers
   
Malt Whisky Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers
   
Rye Malt Whisky Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted rye and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers
  
Corn Whisky Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood
   
Whisky Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)
  
Straight Bourbon Whisky Bourbon whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Bourbon Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight bourbon whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state 
  
Straight Rye Whisky Rye whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Rye Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight rye whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state
  
Straight Wheat Whisky Wheat whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Wheat Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight wheat whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state
  
Straight Malt Whisky Malt whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Malt Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight malt whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state
  
Straight Rye Malt Whisky Rye malt whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Rye Malt Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight rye malt whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state
  
Straight Corn Whisky Corn whisky stored in used or uncharred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Corn Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight corn whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state
  
Straight Whisky Whisky produced from a fermented mash of less than 51 percent of any one type of grain and stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more · “Straight Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state
  
Whisky Distilled from Bourbon Mash Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored in used oak containers
  
Whisky Distilled from Rye Mash Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent rye and stored in used oak containers
  
Whisky Distilled from Wheat Mash Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent wheat and stored in used oak containers
  
Whisky Distilled from Malt Mash Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored in used oak containers
   
Whisky Distilled from Rye Malt Mash Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted rye and stored in used oak containers
   
Light Whisky Whisky produced in the U.S. at more than 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) [but less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof)] and stored in used or uncharred new oak containers
   
Blended Light Whisky or Light Whisky - A Blend Light whisky blended with less than 20% straight whisky on a proof gallon basis 
  
Blended Whisky or Whisky - A Blend Whisky produced by blending not less than 20% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight whisky or a blend of straight whiskies and, separately or in combination, whisky of any type or neutral spirits
  
Blended Bourbon Whisky or Bourbon Whisky - A Blend Blended whisky produced in the U.S. containing not less than 51% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight bourbon whisky 
  
Blended Rye Whisky or Rye Whisky - A Blend Blended whisky containing not less than 51% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight rye whisky
  
Blended Wheat Whisky or Wheat Whisky - A Blend Blended whisky containing not less than 51% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight wheat whisky
   
Blended Malt Whisky or Malt Whisky - A Blend Blended whisky containing not less than 51% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight malt whisky
  
Blended Rye Malt Whisky or Rye Malt Whisky - A Blend  Blended whisky containing not less than 51% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight rye malt whisky
  
Blended Corn Whisky or Corn Whisky - A Blend Blended whisky containing not less than 51% on a proof gallon basis (excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials*) straight corn whisky
  
A Blend of Straight Whiskies or Blended Straight Whiskies Mixture of straight whiskies produced in different states · Mixture of straight whiskies produced in the same state to which harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials* have been added
    
A Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskies or Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskies A blend of straight whiskies produced in the U.S. consisting entirely of straight bourbon whiskies
    
A Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies or Blended Straight Rye Whiskies A blend of straight whiskies consisting entirely of straight rye whiskies
   
A Blend of Straight Wheat Whiskies or Blended Straight Wheat Whiskies A blend of straight whiskies consisting entirely of straight wheat whiskies
   
A Blend of Straight Malt Whiskies or Blended Straight Malt Whiskies A blend of straight whiskies consisting entirely of straight malt whiskies
   
A Blend of Straight Rye Malt Whiskies or Blended Straight Rye Malt Whiskies A blend of straight whiskies consisting entirely of straight rye malt whiskies
   
A Blend of Straight Corn Whiskies or Blended Straight Corn Whiskies A blend of straight whiskies consisting entirely of straight corn whiskies
   
Spirit Whisky Whisky produced by blending neutral spirits and not less than 5% on a proof gallon basis whisky, straight whisky or combination of whisky and straight whisky provided the straight whisky is used at less than 20% on a proof gallon basis 
   
Scotch Whisky Unblended whisky manufactured in Scotland in compliance with the laws of the United Kingdom
   
Blended Scotch Whisky or Scotch Whisky - A Blend A blend of whiskies manufactured in Scotland in compliance with the laws of the United Kingdom
  
Irish Whisky Unblended whisky manufactured in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland in compliance with their laws
   
Blended Irish Whisky or Irish Whisky - A Blend A blend of whiskies manufactured in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland in compliance with their laws
   
Canadian Whisky Unblended whisky manufactured in Canada in compliance with its laws
   
Blended Canadian Whisky or Canadian Whisky - A Blend A blend of whiskies manufactured in Canada in compliance with its laws

    

Quite a selection, right?

But note something VERY important.

With the exception of Straight Bourbon, Straight Rye, Straight Wheat, Straight Malt, Straight Rye Malt and Straight Whisky, not a single category requires Barrel Aging for a specified period, and in the case of those mentioned that do have specified periods, the period is a minimum of only TWO years, not THREE.

This means that unless the batches specifically undergo an additional year of aging, the product is not legally compliant to South African Law, hence its presence on our shelves would be illegal.

   

Should we remove non-compliant American Whisky's from our Shelves?

I am not an advocate for removing those products from our local shelves which is not compliant to our laws (even though technically they are illegal).

My reasons are twofold.

Firstly, I happen to like many of those products.

Secondly, I am not advocating draconian enforcement of outdated legislation. What I AM advocating is a Level Playing Field.

How can we allow producers in other countries to produce and sell products in a certain way in our local market, but we deny the local producers the opportunity to produce products in the same way.

The fact of the matter is that the aging of Whisky for three years is technically not necessary. It's a tradition. That's it.

But by keeping to this tradition, we are creating barriers to entry for entrepreneurs who would love to open up a Whisky Distillery, but lack the finances to keep such an operation running for the three years (or more) that is now legally required, before he (or she) can sell their first bottle.

So what are we losing? Just one less brand on the shelf?

NO !!!

We are losing investment, we are losing Job Opportunities (both directly and indirectly), we are losing out on Tourism, Exports, Excise Tax, Income Tax, Value Added Tax, Company Tax, etc. etc. etc.

This is the reason why Distillique and SACDI engages with the regulatory authorities to have these outdated laws changed - to allow Crafters to make the products they would love to make, to provide consumers what they want - choice. And at the same time, we would be helping the National Liquor Authority, the NLA, achieve their goals of Diversification of Ownership within the Liquor Production, Distribution and Retail Sectors, and help the DTI, Department of Trade and Industry, with job creation, stimulating new industries, stimulating exports and stimulating tourism.

But I digress - a topic for another article.

Related Posts

Share this content