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The Battle of Glen Breton

Glen Breton Whiskey
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From The Globe and Mail, by Jennifer MacMillan

A nine-year battle over the labelling of a Cape Breton whisky has followed the course of a fine single malt, gaining complexity as it ages.

The Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association is turning to the Supreme Court of Canada to stop a small Nova Scotia distillery from calling its product “Glen Breton,” arguing the word “glen” will lead consumers to believe the whisky was produced in Scotland.

The Scotch group is asking the Supreme Court for permission to appeal a lower court ruling that allows Glenora Distillers of Glenville, N.S., to use the name.

Distillery vice-president Bob Scott says the “Glen Breton” label is justified.

“It’s because we’re located in a glen, we’re near Glenora Falls and we’re in Cape Breton,” Mr. Scott said, adding that the name reflects the history of the region, settled by Scottish immigrants in the 1820s.

“It’s rich in Scottish heritage and people in the area still speak Gaelic.”

The Federal Court of Appeal sided with the distiller in January, allowing the company to register the trademark and reversing an earlier decision of the Federal Court of Canada. The transatlantic fight started in 2000, when Glenora Distillers applied for the “Glen Breton” trademark.

The Scotch group has argued the popularity of Scottish-made brands like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich links the word “glen” in consumers’ minds with whiskies distilled in Scotland.

A lawyer for Glenora Distillers has filed a formal response with the Supreme Court. Mr. Scott points out his company has never called its product “Scotch,” a name that only applies to whisky produced in Scotland. Instead, the Glen Breton brand is sold as a single-malt whisky.

Glen Breton is marketed across North America and Mr. Scott says the company would like to make a bigger push into Asian markets, but the ongoing legal battle has made that potentially expensive, since the company could be forced to rebrand if it loses in court.

“We’re a small, independently-owned company,” he said. “This legal thing is certainly hurting us.”

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