Controversial Scotch Whisky Under Investigation From SWA

The Scotch Whisky Association has announced that it is investigating a controversial Scotch whisky that an agriculture and industrial alliance in Italy has accused of causing economic and image damage to the country.

The Cosa Nostra whisky brand is a somewhat atypical whisky investment brand, given its price point was around £60 and it was only a three-year-old blended whisky, but it is also a bottle that has the potential of disappearing from the market if found in breach of the SWA’s policy guidelines.

The manufacturer, Bartex, is not a member of the SWA, but due to the protected nature of Scotch whisky, all drinks that want to call themselves Scotch need to follow several strict criteria.

As this is a complex investigation currently under progress, here is the story so far, and why Cosa Nostra has fallen foul of the highest authority for Scotch.

The Chicago Typewriter

The name Cosa Nostra is Italian for “our thing”, but is almost always said in reference to the Sicilian Mafia or the Italian-Amerian mafia gangs that formed in the 1920s after Italy was taken over by the fascist Benito Mussolini.

It is most likely to be the latter, given the fact that the bottle is shaped like a Thompson submachine gun, sometimes known as the “Chicago Typewriter” which was commonly seen as a symbol of organised crime in the prohibition era, given that it was so easy to obtain that it was often sold to the general public.

As a result, it was almost invariably connected to organised crime, particularly the mafia as it existed in the United States, which means that even beyond the fact that the bottle is shaped like a gun, the specific gun it is designed to look like drew even more ire.

The story got even worse when Bartex attempted to sell the whisky in Palermo, Italy.

Not A Novelty

The controversy intensified at the Piazza del Teatro Politeama, when Bartex laid out a trade table with a range of mafia-inspired products, including Cosa Nostra Whisky, Maffiozzo coffee, two separate types of mafia-inspired nuts.

In Italy, mafia stereotypes are not seen as a novelty but a reminder not only of the violent history of the Sicilian Mafia but other events surrounding it such as the brutal reign of Mussolini.

It was strongly criticised by Il Sole 24 Ore, a daily business newspaper as well as Coldiretti, the association of entrepreneurs and farmers in agriculture, as well as Fileria Italia, an industry and agricultural alliance.

The issue was not just with Bartex’s product but all products that use mafia imagery as a novelty, arguing that products such as these are detrimental to Italy’s image by trivialising and normalising to a degree an organised crime wave that brought grief, pain and death to Italian people for decades.

This initial concern led to a report to the SWA, which has started an investigation into, somewhat ironically, whether Cosa Nostra could legally be called Scotch whisky or is a bootleg product.

The Investigation

There are several rules the SWA have that must be followed before a dring can legally be labelled Scotch.

It needs to have a minimum alcohol-by-volume strength of 40 per cent, it must have been matured for three years in oak casks, must have been produced from water and malted barley at a Scottish distillery, and cannot contain any added substances besides caramel colouring.

According to an investigation by the Scottish Herald, Cosa Nostra uses Glen Gate three-year-old Scotch whisky, a brand own by Polish manufacturer Bartex which as long as Glen Gate fits the criteria does at least mean the drink is officially Scotch.

However, the SWA also does not condone the use of marketing that celebrates illegal behaviour, violence or aggression, all three of which are inherent to celebrating Prohibition-era weaponry.

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