The popularity of Scotch whisky has increased dramatically in recent years, so much so that it is now one of the UKs top ten exports and is fast becoming the drink of choice to the emerging middle classes in France, India, the Far East and Brazil. However whilst sales of the spirit are soaring abroad, it would seem that at home distillers of single malt Scotch are facing fierce competition by their English rivals.
Sales figures for Marks and Spencer showed that over the Christmas period that almost twice the number of its ‘Fine Single Malt English Whisky’ were sold in comparison to its new Scottish single malt despite both bottles being on sale for the same price. M&S whiskey is distilled by the English Whisky Company at their St George distillery in Norfolk who since their launch in 2006 have moved from strength to strength and is reflected in the consistency of their customer’s buying behavior – people are not just buying it as a one off but are repeatedly purchasing bottles of it showing that it does have a loyal fan base.
Indeed The English Whisky Company has proved quite the success story and now it seems is inspiring others to follow suit. Last week it was announced that a team of 5 entrepreneurs have got the go ahead to build a new £4m distillery in the Lake District with an aim to distilling their first spirit this June. Although it will still be another 3 years of casking before the spirit produced can legally be called ‘whisky’ they are confident that the international thirst for it will not yet have been quenched.
Although concerns for distillers were voiced by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry over the impact that the rate of excise duty will have on both fledgling and established distilleries in the long term. In an open letter published ahead of the chancellor’s March budget the SCDI stated that due to the alcohol duty escalator, duty on whiskey is now up to a whopping 44% by comparison to 2008 resulting in the UK having the 4th highest taxed spirits in Europe and a drop of 12% in domestic sales last year.
Simply put it seems that in time Scots and English alike may be unable to afford the whisk(e)y they produce. It seems ever more ludicrous when one considers the recession busting quality of whisky; in a recession stricken economy where whisky proves to be one of the UKs few lamps still left burning instead of encouraging growth in the industry by scrapping the escalator – as was done with beer in 2013 – the government seem bent on smothering it with greater taxation.
One may ponder that with greater taxation whether we will be seeing an increase in illicit stills setting up shop in the countryside of Northern England and the Highlands? After all history does have a habit of repeating itself. Here is to hoping that the whiskey bubble doesn’t burst before we can sample the Cumbrian take on the ‘water of life’.
The author is an enthusiastic blogger and lover of all things whisky. for more news and whisky related articles follow me on twitter.