Spirit drinks are produced in all EU countries, both for domestic consumption and export. The 44 spirit drink categories regulated at EU level (e.g. rum, whisky, brandy, vodka) and the approximately 250 geographical indications (e.g. Madeira Rum, Irish Whiskey, Cognac, Polish Vodka) are a clear sign that the sector is deeply rooted in the European culture and tradition.
With 8.4 billion euros exports in 2021, spirit drinks contribute more than 5 billion euros to the positive EU trade balance. They give rise to approximately 46.8 billion euros to EU governments’ taxes and duties (1/3 of the EU budget) and provide around 1.2 million direct jobs in production and sales.
The EU does not support the production of spirit drinks but provides for a common legislative framework as regards their production and labelling and the protection of geographical indications for spirit drinks.
Provisions governing the production and labelling of spirit drinks are laid down in Regulation (EU) 2019/787. They provide the definition of ‘spirit drink’ and of the 44 spirit drink categories allowed in the EU, outlining detailed rules to be followed for their production, description, presentation and labelling.
Moreover, they define the conditions whereby the legal names allowed under each category or geographical indication may be used when spirit drinks are combined with other foodstuffs. Finally, they define the type of alcohol that may be used in the production of spirit drinks and any other alcoholic beverage produced and sold in the EU.
The Commission recently published guidelines on the labelling of spirit drinks, explaining all the rules food business operators need to comply with to correctly inform consumers about the content of a product that is a spirit drink or that contains spirit drinks.
Applicable rules on geographical indications in the spirit drinks sector are also laid down in Regulation (EU) 2019/787, as well as in Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2021/1235 and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1236.
Public registers for spirit drinks
The first public register contains contact information for the bodies supervising the ageing processes for spirit drinks. Its publication is required by EU law.
The second public register contains contact information for the competent authorities responsible for the other checks required by the Spirit Drinks Regulation (EU) 2019/787.
Both registers aim to inform stakeholders both inside and outside the EU.
Various committees, composed of government representatives and chaired by a European Commission representative, meet regularly to ensure that the Commission's responsibility for adopting implementing acts is exercised under the control of EU countries.
The committee and the expert group for spirit drinks discuss areas such as the evolution of market prices, production and trade in the EU and non-EU countries.
The civil dialogue group on spirit drinks has the role of assisting the European Commission in maintaining a regular dialogue with stakeholders on all matters related to the spirit drinks sector.