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
“The new rules were hugely beneficial in rationalising bottle variants, reducing consumer confusion and improving bottling machinery efficiency. The use of lightweight glass became possible, thereby providing huge environmental advantages,” the submission went on.
Barriers to trade ended. The European Court of Justice ruled that excise tax, VAT and additional regulations in Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland and Italy were illegal, while copycat whiskies in France were banned.
An EU-wide excise system “largely works smoothly” in tracking the shipment of such goods throughout the EU, while the internal rules set down by Brussels are useful outside the union because third party countries are often urged to copy them.
In recent months much attention has been paid to the prospects of a free-trade deal between the EU and the United States, though Scotch distillers are more interested in India.
“India has a tariff barrier of 150 per cent against Scotch,” said Mr Evans. “It is one of the largest, if not the largest spirits markets in the world, 250 million cases sold, and Scotch has less than 2 million cases of that. Our priority is to get that deal done.
“We already have an agreement with the US in both directions. The Indian talks have been long-running. There is potential for further talks this summer. We’ll probably know by the autumn whether a deal can be done by the Indian elections next year, or not.”
Scotch whisky has reached its international heights of success due to skill, but also thanks to some good fortune. In the 19th century, Irish whiskey was seen as superior, but Irish distillers lost out in the British market after independence, particularly from the 1930s onwards.
The lesson has left Scotch distillers conscious that shifting international sands can cost dearly: “There are probably technical things (that could be done better at EU level), but I can’t immediately say,” comments Mr Evans.
Back on Mull, Loch Ba is said to be the home to the Celtic giant, Cailleach Bheur, who renewed her youth once every hundred years by immersing herself in its waters, but only if she performed the rite before any creature woke.
For millennia, the years “fell away and she became a young girl once again”, until the day when a restless shepherd’s dog began to bark as she made her way to the water. The spell was broken. Scotch distillers know that their spell, too, is not guaranteed.