SA-made vodka that tried very hard to look like whisky has failed in a strange appeal

Business Insider SA
South Africa's banned Royal Douglas and King Arthur brands.
  • The South African makers of "whisky flavoured spirit aperitifs" – vodka with caramel colouring – tried to appeal a ban on brands such as Royal Douglas and King Arthur.
  • In a battle with the Scotch Whisky Association, SA company Milestone argued, among other things, that the taste of whisky can not be defined.
  • The Supreme Court of Appeal thinks South Africans may have been fooled into buying what they thought was whisky, and has reinforced a ban on the operation.
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A long fight between a local producer of vodka with caramel colouring dressed up as whisky and guardians of the Scottish tradition has again seen a South African company banned from trying to intimate a link to Scotland, this time in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Local company Milestone Beverage, which sells “Afrolicious” vodka and “Premier” gin, was told to destroy all material that is so much as "evocative of Scottish origin", or else.

That company had tried to appeal a similar high court ruling that the Scotch Whisky Association had celebrated as proof of SA's strong legal protections.

Like the high court, the Supreme Court of Appeal was not impressed by the sometimes peculiar arguments Milestone offered, including that, while it was selling what it called a whisky-flavoured drink, there is actually no such thing.

Because taste is subjective, Milestone said, it is impossible "precisely to identify when a product will be deemed to be whisky flavoured".

Carried to its logical conclusion, said the Supreme Court, that argument would allow the company to put whatever it liked into a bottle and call it whisky.

Actually in the bottle was vodka, with artificial caramel colouring, which by the evidence of Scotch Whisky Association experts could be said to taste of apple, orange, and other fruit, but nothing like whisky – which the association maintains has a definite and undeniable taste that can indeed be defined.

The outside of the bottle, though, offered something different.

Milestone bottles
Older versions of the banned Milestone branding for its flavoured alcoholic drinks.

"The first impression on a customer passing through a liquor store is likely to be that each product is a whisky," said the SCA – even after Milestone dropped tartan as part of a design and made other small adjustments to its branding.

Milestone claimed one of its brands, Royal Douglas, had been named for a grandfather in its controlling family, Douglas Haupt. It did not explain where another brand in its stable, King Arthur, had come from, or the caramel colour of its vodka, or why it had reached for Scottish rather than Russian imagery in its designs. 

The company had also offered a "Jennesons" brand, and one named "Mills". 

The drinks sold for around a third of the price of mainstream brands of whisky, at one point with a large "whisky" on the label, followed by a much smaller "flavoured spirit".

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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