A new scheme to protect regional alcoholic specialties from counterfeit and substandard competition has been launched in the UK.
The Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme (SDVS) is designed to help consumers in the UK and abroad identify genuine Scotch whisky and other spirits of UK origin and avoid buying illicit products that could damage their health.
The system - which has been in gestation for some time - was officially launched on January 10 by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.
Under the scheme, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will carry out checks on all businesses involved in the production of these spirits - spanning fermenting and distilling to bottling and labelling - and make sure that they meet strict EU requirements. The HMRC will then publish a list of verified brands, production facilities and bulk importers.
Scotch whisky is the first UK spirit to be protected by the SDVS, but the scheme is likely to be extended to other drinks with a geographical indication (GI), such as Somerset cider brandy or Irish whiskey, says the HMRC.
Producers, blenders, bottlers, labellers and bulk importers of whisky now have to apply to the HMRC to be verified as a legitimate part of the supply chain, and those that fail to do so will be unable to market their products legally within the EU.
The introduction of the scheme reflects the importance to the Scottish and UK economies of the Scotch whiskey industry, which makes sales of around £4bn ($6.6bn) a year and employs around 10,000 people.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) revealed last year that exports rose 11 per cent by value in the first half of 2013 compared to the same period of 2012, with the number of exported bottles up 9 per cent to 560 million. Much of the growth is in emerging markets in Asia - although sales to China declined - as well as South Africa and South America.
The official launch of the SDVS took place at Benromach Scotch Whisky distillery in Speyside. Speaking at the event Alexander said: "The UK Government is doing its bit today to step in and make sure cheap fakes don't undermine this unique global export."
That sentiment was echoed by SWA chief executive David Frost, who said it would "greatly improve the industry's ability to stop the sale of adulterated Scotch whisky bottles abroad."
The total annual cost of the verification scheme of around £350,000 is being shared across the Scotch whisky industry, in accordance with EU rules.