The Portman Group ruled that the repeated and ‘unusual’ use of the 16.90% ABV, the colour orange and the image of King William heading into battle on horseback was ‘divisive and inflammatory’ and could fuel sectarian crime
A complaint by a member of the public against King William Fortified Wine for “causing serious offence” was upheld by the alcohol industry’s Independent Complaints Panel.
The new tonic wine was launched across Glasgow and the west of Scotland last year, with the makers saying they were unconcerned about the potential for a backlash.
However, the Panel at the Portman Group noted that “in some communities King William of Orange could be intrinsically linked to sectarianism, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland”.
The ruling went on: “As part of its discussion, the Panel noted that sectarianism still caused serious conflict in some areas of the UK today. The Panel discussed the meaning of symbolism and noted that in this particular instance, there would be some individuals who would celebrate King William of Orange and others who would find reference to him offensive, meaning that the overall impression conveyed by the packaging was very important.”
The drink was produced by Jersey-registered Belcondie, which had previously released a King William Gin and also owns the trademarks for King William Rum and King William Whisky.
The Panel also found that the alcohol by volume (ABV) strength of 16.90% was an “unusual” and “intentionally presented in this manner to associate it with a year, particularly in the context that it appeared five times on the packaging”.
Belcondie said it was a reference to the 1690 Distilling Act but the watchdog “considered it would be far more likely to be understood by consumers as a reference to the year when the Battle of the Boyne took place; a significant event in British history that was a key turning point in terms of its ramifications for religious and political views, particularly in relation to sectarianism”.
It also considered the use of the colour orange in the packaging and “imagery of King William on horseback as though leading his troops into battle”.
All in all, it ruled that the “combination of elements on the label were likely to be divisive and inflammatory, fuelling division in certain communities where religiously aggravated crime was prevalent”.
Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said: “The overall impression of a product should always be considered carefully and in this instance, it was a combination of elements that when considered together, created a clear link to sectarianism in a manner that could still be considered divisive and inflammatory today.
“I welcome the producer’s intention to make changes to the product packaging and encourage other producers to note how a combination of factors can lead to a breach of the Code.”
The drink was launched as a rival to Buckfast, which has been made by the Catholic Benedictine Monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon since the 1880s.
When it launched, a spokesman for Belcondie said: “We have no idea which football clubs our customers support but our previous products have done well in areas within west central Scotland. It seemed a natural choice for launch.”
Top picture: Members of the Orange Lodge parading in Dumbarton.