King William wine label deemed 'divisive and inflammatory' by watchdog

A complaint made against the brand for 'causing serious offence' has been upheld by the Independent Complaint Panel.

King William Fortified Wine label deemed ‘divisive and inflammatory’ by watchdog Facebook

King William Fortified Wine has been ordered to amend its branding and imagery after a watchdog found it to be “divisive and inflammatory”.

A complaint made by a member of the public against the wine brand for “causing serious offence” has been upheld by the Portman Group’s Independent Complaint Panel (ICP).

The complainant wrote that the use of King William of Orange as branding and the alcohol by volume (ABV) of 16.90% was playing to “sectarian elements” which are capable of causing societal division in western Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The wine was launched in Glasgow and the west of Scotland in September last year, and was expected to rival Buckfast – with creators Belcondie Ltd stating they were not worried about criticisms.

Belcondie previously released a King William Gin, and also owns trademarks for King William Rum and King William Whisky.


The ICP panel noted that in some UK communities, King William’s image and associations were “intrinsically linked to sectarianism and he was seen as a figurehead by one side of a faction”.

As part of its discussion, the panel also highlighted that sectarianism still causes “serious conflict” in some areas, and would be a “known experience” for communities in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Working with Scottish anti sectarianism charity, Nil by Mouth, the panel was told that as a figure, King William had historical importance on both sides of the Irish Sea and was closely associated with Protestantism.

The charity highlighted the importance of symbolism and how historical figures, imagery, colours and dates could be viewed in the context of identity, intolerance and religious prejudice in Scotland today.

Nil by Mouth explained: “In the context of Glasgow, the city topped the table for number of religiously aggravated arrests every year, in many of which alcohol played a part, and that issues with religious prejudice since the reformation were indisputable.”

The panel then considered the packaging in its entirety, noting a “repetition” of the drink’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) 16.90%, which appeared five times.


It found it “unusual” to see the number presented to two decimal places, and considered it “intentional” to directly associate the number with a year.

On top and at the back of the label, the number 16.90 also appeared without a percentage sign – the panel said this “framed the number as a historical date reference in the context of King William of Orange”.

The company had stated that the number was a reference to the 1690 Distilling Act, but the panel said it thought the Battle of Boyne was a more significant event – calling it a “turning point” in relation to sectarianism.

It said: “The combination of elements on the label were likely to be divisive and inflammatory and would further fuel division in certain communities where religiously aggravated crime was still prevalent.

The complaint was upheld, and producers Belcondie will work with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service to change potentially offensive elements on the label.

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