Scotch whisky has been produced for something like 500 years, with the first historical reference of distilling in Scotland dated to 1494, a record of transfer for malt delivered to a ‘Friar John Cor’ to make acqua vitae. Given that this particular Friar John had enough malt delivered to produce over a thousand bottles of ‘water of life‘, the distilling practice must have been well-established by then.
We discovered Scotch on a hiking trip through central and western Scotland around twenty years ago. We went were the roads took us, and when we stopped somewhere, we tried whatever whisky was local. It made the process of being marginally lost most of the time much more palatable.
I hadn’t realized until recently, though, that my adopted home of France is actually the largest single market for Scotch. And not just since we’ve been living here. No, according to Whisky.com, Scotch established itself in France due to a specific agricultural disaster of the late 19th century which I’ve discussed before – the phylloxera beetle blight that decimated Europe’s vineyards as well as its wine and brandy production within a few short years. Apparently, Scottish distillers had ramped up their production enough over the four centuries since Friar John’s malt delivery to step into the breach created by the Great Blight. The wine industry recovered, but by then Scotch had established itself as the spirit of choice over brandy.
An estimated 85% of Scotch is exported, with France as the largest single consumer by volume. Singapore is the leader in Scotch whisky imports per capita, while the US leads in imports by sales value. If I interpret this correctly, it means that France consumes a large volume of inexpensive whisky, Singapore has a high percentage of whisky drinkers in its population, and the United States likes the high-end stuff. In spite of recent dips in growth, Scotch whisky is still an expanding market, having seen an increase of almost 90% in demand over the last ten years. South America and parts of Asia (especially mainland China) in particular are predicted to see increasing interest in Scotch.
A few years ago, when Lagavulin 16-year-old became very popular in our area, there seemed to be a sudden supply bottleneck (for lack of a better term). Good thing Scottish distilleries are investing a reported £2 billion (US$ 3 billion) in production facilities over the next three or four years to keep up with demand. It looks like the industry is preparing for more good times, even without the help of the mighty phylloxera beetle.
Sky News article – Scotch exports hit a new high
Whisky.com – A Brief History