I am often intrigued by little details of the whisky industry. One is why it doesn’t take a leaf out of the brewing industry’s book and remove all yeast from the wash before pumping it into the wash stills.
Whisky has now become not just a popular drink, but also a major field of study. From whisky appreciation weekends to in-depth whisky tours to university courses, whisky knowledge has almost become an industry in itself. And, year after year, new books on whisky are published that have to jostle for shelf space with those already there.
One thing has often intrigued me. We use four main cereals to make whisky, and other grain-based spirits – namely barley, wheat, maize (corn-on-the-cob) and rye.
It is a fact that governments, in the UK and elsewhere, are increasingly attracted to what one might call “consumption taxes” instead of direct ones such as income tax. And in Britain, arguably the number one consumption tax after VAT is the excise duty on alcohol.
One of the underappreciated facts about international trade is how disproportionately valuable certain goods and commodities are. To take a simple example: the Swiss export (among other things) Gruyere cheese and Rolex watches. However, one Rolex watch can be worth as much as, say, half a ton of Gruyere.
Centuries ago, illegal distilling and smuggling were rampant in Scotland and Ireland as successive governments tried, unsuccessfully, to control distilling and to tax the distillers, or the whisky, or both.
Few people would dispute that many of Scotland’s best-known single malts include the word Glen – what with Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glen Ord, Glen Spey, Glenfarclas and a host of others. Glen has nice connotations, conjuring up visions of a narrow green valley centred on a namesake burn or river flanked by rolling hills purple with heather.
Scotch whisky today is one of today’s great success stories — it contributes £5 billion to the UK economy and earns £4 billion a year overseas — whisky accounts for some 80% of Scottish food and drink exports and a quarter of UK food and drink exports.
Most classic cars tend to have long and glorious histories, even if the grim reaper of the car world eventually seals their fate.
For all I am an unalloyed whisky fan, in one domain I’m a bit of a Luddite. I have a range of favourite whiskies and can usually spot them in a blind tasting.