Northern Ireland

Irish whiskey: Government moves to stop foreign spirit production

Whiskey Image copyright Thinkstock

The Irish government has brought in tighter regulations to prevent other countries making their own whiskey.

Under European law, Irish whiskey, poitín and cream have "protected geographical indications" that recognise their regional importance and distinctive characteristics.

It means that the spirits must be produced on the island of Ireland.

Annual verification checks will now be carried out to ensure Irish distillers meet the required specifications.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said there were strong enforcement powers.

'Inferior products'

He said the new regulations would "ensure that spirit drinks labelled with these protected designations are manufactured in Ireland in accordance with the approved technical specification".

"These regulations mean that inferior products or those that do not share the uniquely Irish heritage of these protected geographical indications cannot be sold as Irish whiskey, Irish poitin or Irish cream," he said.

"They can help to protect the reputation and integrity of these products, but also to protect Irish jobs. From a consumer perspective, they will also give assurance to customers, at home and abroad, of the quality of the unique spirit products they are consuming."

As the spirits are produced on an all-island basis, the Irish government consulted with the UK's HMRC on the details and timing of the verification system.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Distillers will be able to apply for their products to be verified

Mr Coveney said Irish whiskey was growing in popularity, with exports growing by almost 200% in the last decade.

"Three years ago, the island of Ireland had four distilleries in operation - in the next three years that number could grow to over 20," he said.

"I am confident that this success can be replicated in other spirit drinks products."

Technical files on the protected spirits have been submitted to the European Commission, and distillers can apply for their products to be verified.

Annual checks will be carried out to ensure the spirits are being produced to the correct specifications.

Whiskey's name comes from the Gaelic "uisce beatha", which translates as the water of life.

The characteristics of Irish whiskey and its production are outlined in legislation in the Republic of Ireland - the Irish Whiskey Act 1980.

The existing EU regulations also apply to a range of other protected spirit drinks manufactured in member states.

Other specialty products from across Europe with protected geographical status include Parma ham, Champagne wine and Stilton cheese.

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