Will Irish whiskey have to contain Irish grain?

In last week’s Farm to Fork Strategy, it was announced that the EU Commission “will strengthen the legislative framework on geographical indications (GIs) and, where appropriate, include specific sustainability criteria”.

If carried out right this could have a big impact on the Irish tillage sector as the much talked about technical file of Irish whiskey may have to improve. At present, the technical file of Irish whiskey does not require Irish grain to be used in its production.

Each year over 100,000t of maize is imported into this country to produce “Irish” whiskey. If sustainability criteria is to be included in GIs this will surely limit the amount of imported grain that can be used in Irish Whiskey production.

The most popular story behind the sales of Irish whiskey is that of Irish farmers growing barley for malting.

Tours of famous distilleries cling onto the old tales of local farmers delivering barley by horse and cart, but in many cases of modern-day distilling French maize has taken away possible markets for local farmers.

It should be noted that there are many distilleries, often featured here on AgriLand, that are using fully traceable Irish grain to produce their product.

Other farmers are protected

Looking at GIs for other products it seems that there is more protection for Irish farmers. For example, it’s very hard to see how Irish Cream (a liqueur) must be produced with Irish milk, but not with Irish grain.

The technical file for Irish Cream describes the product as a “blend of fresh Irish dairy cream in a flavoured/sweetened alcohol base containing Irish whiskey and other permitted ingredients”.

The file also includes the following: “The milk fat content in Irish Cream liqueur shall consist of fresh Irish dairy cream produced on the island of Ireland including Northern Ireland from Irish milk obtained on the island of Ireland including Northern Ireland.”

Irish cream must include a minimum of 1% Irish Whiskey. This whiskey must comply with the technical file, which of course does not require Irish grain to be used in its production.

AgriLand examined some more products which have GIs and listed some of the important points below.

Connemara lamb is protected

Connemara Hill Lamb is according to its GI “the meat from lambs of the Blackfaced/Brecked breed dam, born and raised in a Connemara Mayo Blackfaced/Brecked ewe flock and on land farmed within the geographical area”.

So Connemara Hill lamb can only carry the name if it is produced in Connemara.

Protected down to the map co-ordinates

Sneem Black Pudding is another example and goes so far as to record the geographical coordinates of the village.

The GI states that: “All livestock used in the production of Sneem Black Pudding are fully traceable to farms in the South-West Kerry and Killarney areas and are processed in abattoirs in the Village of Sneem.

The geographical area for the production of ’Sneem Black Pudding’ is the village of Sneem on the Iveragh Peninsula in Co. Kerry. The geographical coordinates for the village of Sneem are 51° 50′ 0″ North, 9° 54′ 0″ West.


The most famous product with a GI in the world is arguably Champagne. Champagne can only be made from grapes grown and harvested in the Champagne area of France. The wine must also be made in the region.

Champagne has been protected since 1967 and now has a Protected Geographical Indication. The protection of Champagne has made it a highly sought after product and increased its value.

While Champagne can be made in other countries it must clearly state where it was made and that it is not Champagne from the Champagne region.

Niagara wine

Last year AgriLand visited the Niagra region in Ontario, Canada, where only Niagara grapes can be used to produce Niagara wine.

In order to be classified as a Niagara wine the grapes must be produced in this region.

The vineyards are mapped by GPS. Farmers must log in when starting to harvest. Deliveries are tracked and there is full traceability along the production line.

As a result of the traceability, the wine is a premium product and is priced accordingly. The use of grapes from the region means that supply is limited and a niche product is produced.

The label speaks for itself and if a label does not comply with the regulations the producer is deemed to be breaking the law.

Waterford Blaa

The Waterford Blaa is another example of a product with a PGI that does not have to have locally sourced ingredients, but must be made in the region. The method and the area where it is made are at the forefront of this PGI. Preservative-free strong baker’s flour is needed, along with table salt, compressed yeast, dough conditioner and water.

The shape, size, presentation, crust and consistency are the key characteristics of a Waterford Blaa.

Fully traceable and high value

Adding traceability to products gives consumers confidence. Niche products have added value in the market place. For example, next month Waterford Whisky will launch its first single farm distillations.

The distillery has produced whisky from farms across Ireland and can trace all its produce from farm to bottle. The whisky will no doubt have a high premium as a result. The lack of an “e” in Waterford Whisky is also to avoid association with other Irish Whiskey on the market that is not produced from Irish grain.

‘Irish’ grain whiskey with no Irish grain?

If the legislative framework of Geographical Indications is to be strengthened within the EU it needs to ensure primary producers are protected and that the products are what they say on the tin.

Irish grain whiskey should contain Irish grain.

Does Irish whiskey meet the requirements for a GI?

According to the EU, GIs are signs (most usually proper names) which identify ‘a good’ as originating in the territory of a particular country, or a region or locality in that country, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. It is a separate type of intellectual property.

A report commissioned by the Commission of the European Communities stated that: “In order to be recognised as a GI products must relate to a good or in some cases a service. The goods must originate from a defined area and the good must have qualities, reputations or other characteristics which are clearly linked to the geographical origin of goods.

The report continued on to state: “The main function of GIs is to identify the origin of goods. They point to a specific place or region of production that confers particular characteristics and qualities on the product.

“It is important to emphasise that the product derives its qualities and reputation from the place of origin. These signs can acquire a high reputation and commercial value and, for these reasons, may be exposed to misappropriation, misuse and counterfeiting. This is why it is generally recognised that these signs need to be protected.”