What is a spirit (Reg. 2019/787)

Spirit drinks are all defined in EU legislation.  The former rules set out in Regulation 110/2008 where replaced by the new spirit drinks regulation 2019/787 concluded on 17 May 2019. As was the case with its 1989 and 2008 predecessors, the new regulation seeks to codify the main provisions regarding the production and labelling of spirits, including geographical indications (GI), in the EU. 

The legislation defines each of the individual categories of spirit: brandy, rum, gin etc., setting out, variously, their raw materials and production requirements.  This can include maximum distillation strength, maturation requirements, minimum alcoholic strength for consumer sale and the minimum sugar levels for liqueurs.  The legislation also lists every spirit with a geographical indication that have been registered in the EU.  

In all cases the raw materials for the production of spirits must come from an agricultural source.  In addition, so as to protect the quality and reputation of EU spirits on the world market, spirits exported from the EU must also comply with EU rules.

The new law contains a number of positive and innovative elements such as new rules on the facility to translate GI terms, on the use of sweetening substances and on origin of ingredients are very welcome, as it is the mechanism that will allow fake GI spirits in transit in the EU to be seized. In addition, certain definitions such as, for instance, those for vodka or London Gin have been refined and improved.

Against that, however, Council insisted that the new law should no longer allow the definitions of individual spirits to be updated, whether to respond to innovation or to address practical problems. This is a step backwards and is likely to create difficulties in the future. Also, some of the new rules look complex and, as they have yet to be tested in the market, it is not entirely clear how exactly they should be applied.  

The Regulation entered into force on 25 May 2021 together with Guidelines for the implementation of certain labelling provisions of regulation (EU) 2019/787”.

The purpose of the guideline document  is to ensure its uniform application for the benefit both of national administrations and food business operators (e.g. spirit drinks producers and importers) as concerns certain labelling provisions laid down therein. It is limited to the practical explanation of labelling provisions applicable to spirit drinks, in particular concerning the use of ‘legal names’, ‘compound terms’, ‘allusions’, ‘mixtures’ and ‘blends’. To this end, it gives several non-exhaustive examples that are provided for illustration purposes only. The present guideline document is provided for information purposes only and its contents are not intended to replace consultation of any applicable legal sources or the necessary advice of a legal expert, where appropriate. 

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