An independent distiller's clear spirit may be made from Scotch and taste like a good whisky but it cannot call itself by the name, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.

Two of the world's biggest drinks firms won an undertaking from the Isle of Man producers of Glen Kella not to label it as Manx Whiskey in the UK.

Even though the product is originally Scotch whisky which is re-distilled to remove the yellow colour, it cannot be called a whisky because it does not comply with the legal definition of the drink, Mr Justice Rattee decided.

The judge said that in reaching the conclusion he was ''very conscious'' that he had heard evidence from ''a very experienced whisky taster'', Mr Joe Naughalty, who said Glen Kella not only tasted like whisky but like a ''good whisky''.

The judge added: ''However, whether it tastes like whisky is not the point, any more than whether it looks like whisky, which it certainly does not.''

He said ''the essential point'' was that to call itself whisky it must have been matured after distillation for at least three years and this spirit had not.

The Scotch Whisky Association, which also fought the case, said after the hearing: ''It is vital that the integrity of the description 'whisky' should be preserved as an essential element in protecting the description 'Scotch Whisky'.''

The drinks companies which brought the action were United Distillers and Allied Domecq.

Mr Andrew Dixon, managing director of Glen Kella, said he could not understand why the judge ruled out his product as whisky because it had not been matured when the spirit had been matured before the re-distillation process.

He said he was considering an appeal.

The drink, which has sales of 50,000 bottles a year, mainly in the Far East and Isle of Man, will not be labelled ''whisky'' in the UK from now on and an EC-wide injunction will be sought after Easter.

Mr Justice Rattee said the case was one of many brought by makers of brand alcoholic drinks, including champagne, sherry, and advocaat, to stop others ''passing off'' and cashing in on their reputations.

The judge said all he had to decide was whether Glen Kella was whisky and had tasted it ''during the course of the trial''.

''I decided the issues in this case on the evidence placed before me and not in any sense on any views of my own about the taste of Glen Kella.''

The judge said that one of the qualities of whisky produced by the maturing process in oak barrels was its golden colour which was ''wholly absent'' in Glen Kella.

He said this meant the drink was not whisky as defined by the EC Regulation. After the second distillation to remove the colour, it was a different liquid and could only become whisky by a process of maturing again.

Mr Justice Rattee said he accepted that the ''real risk of damage'' of allowing Glen Kella to call itself whisky was ''an insidious process of erosion of the integrity of the reputation of true whisky''.

Mr Dixon has previously claimed that the reason the whisky giants had taken legal action was that ''they want to make a white whiskey themselves and they know we have beaten them to it''.

Recent studies have shown whisky is among several ''dark'' drinks, also including bitter and red wine, which are losing their market share to ''lighter'' tipples - especially among younger drinkers.

However, the Scotch Whisky Association denied it had been motivated by the desire to stop rivals gaining a foothold in the market.

A spokesman said: ''We have no problem with innovations, so long as people keep within the law and the regulations.

''If products came onto the market dressed up as whisky and nothing was done about it, then the definition of whisky would be nibbled away.

''And those products could undermine the integrity and credibility of the industry.''

He added that it would be ''extremely difficult'' to produce clear whisky that did conform to guidelines, as the maturing process in oak casks gave the whisky its colour.

Traditional whisky drinkers were pleased with the court's decision.

Even author Quentin Crisp, who has backed a malt whisky in a pink bottle which is on sale in gay nightclubs, said he preferred the drink itself to retain its traditional colour.

''Sometimes rules are good - you can't just call anything whisky,'' he told PA News.