Scotch distillers not afraid to credit EU with a measure of their global success
Distillers aware that circumstances have long favoured their rise to prominence
A taste of success: Scotch whisky has gained phenomenal international popularity. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Last year, the Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull in the Hebrides had to cease production after the island had a fifth of its normal rainfall. Meanwhile, much of the rest of Britain endured its wettest summer for the best part of a century. Life up north can be different.
The distillery has been operating since 1798, so the temporary closure did nothing to interrupt supplies of its Tobermory and Ledaig single malts.
Like other Scotch distillers, Tobermory has benefited from the phenomenal popularity enjoyed by Scotch whisky internationally, with total exports now worth nearly £5 billion, up by an eighth in just 12 months.
In April, the Mull distillery was bought by the South African company, Distel, a move which follows the £60 million purchase last September by Rémy Cointreau of the Bruichladdich Distillery Company on neighbouring Islay.
Besides their own hard work and dedication, Scotch distillers have benefited greatly from Britain’s European Union membership. Unlike other British industries, they display no reluctance in making their support for it known. Some months ago, the industry’s mouthpiece, the Scotch Whisky Association, lodged a submission to the British government’s inquiry into the powers that should be repatriated from Brussels.
Scotch whisky, under EU rules, can only be distilled in Scotland from fermented malted cereals, matured in wooden casks for three years or more and cannot be sweetened, or flavoured.
In addition, the EU has gone to bat for Scotch distillers, taking cases successfully to the World Trade Organisation when the latter faced unfair discrimination in Japan, Korea, Chile and the Philippines.
“We have seen great benefits from the EU’s economic power and we don’t see any reason for that to change. We’re not asking for anything to be repatriated,” Campbell Evans of the Scotch Whisky Association told The Irish Times.
On August 1st, the latest in a series of free-trade rules negotiated by the EU came into force, opening up Colombia, while a number of association agreements with Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama will ease the route to the shelves.
Last year, more than £500 million worth of whisky cases were sold to Central and South America, up 3 per cent on the year before, but the association insists that, with Scotch holding “a relatively small part of the spirits market in these countries, there is great potential for growth”.
In its submission to Whitehall, it declared: “As the world’s foremost internationally traded spirit drink, Scotch whisky derives enormous benefit from the EU’s expertise and negotiating muscle in the areas of trade policy and market access globally.”
In addition, the union offers the industry a 28-state internal market that has developed greatly since the 1970s, when Scotch was sold in over 60 bottle sizes.