When is a Scotch not a Scotch? When it is aged in France...

Aged in barrels and distilled from cognac and grape juice in central France, Le Whisky Bercloux is presented to its growing band of fans as a triumphant melding of French and Scottish traditions that produce a spirit from the Highlands which "releases the perfume of French honey".

The problem is that the producers of the tipple have added another word to the bottle: Scotch. The justification offered by the makers is that it is made from raw whisky imported from a distillery to the north of Glasgow, before being matured in oak barrels by a small family firm in the Poitou-Charentes region of western France.

Unfortunately, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the trade body which spends £1.5m each year on legal action to protect its product from an increasing cabal of international imitators and counterfeiters, sees this attempt at a whisky-fuelled entente cordiale somewhat differently. Yesterday, it warned the Brasserie de Bercloux, the producers of the French "Scotch", that it was sending in the lawyers with an implicit demand to remove all Scottish associations from their whisky.

Under British and European law, a whisky can only be called Scotch when it has been made and aged entirely in Scotland. By maturing Le Whisky Bercloux in old barrels used to make Pineau Des Charentes, a popular cognac-based aperitif, it is alleged that the French company is breaking rules set up to protect the Scotch industry, worth £2.8bn a year to the British economy in exports.

A spokesman for the SWA said: "If the product has been matured in France, it should not be sold as 'Scotch Whisky'. The SWA legal team will be looking into this particular instance further."

The owners of the Brasserie de Bercloux, who sell their whisky in an eye-catching bottle for €16 (£13), declined to comment on the claims. But the company confirmed it was using whisky imported from a distillery close to Alexandria, at the southern end of Loch Lomond, and leaving it to mature for two months in Pineau barrels.

It is likely they will soon find themselves on the receiving end of a trademark protection operation run from the SWA's Edinburgh headquarters that is taking action against up to 70 imitation or counterfeit producers around the world at any one time. One industry source said that the imitation Scotch industry alone is worth an estimated £200m worldwide, with burgeoning markets in China, India and, improbably, Australia.

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