Maybe I’m mistaken but we seem to have lost our ability to laugh about alcohol and its funny consequences. In bygone years, the village drunkard was a standard character in countless plays. Arguably, there are more jokes about drink than about sex. Music hall, radio and TV comedy sketches often portrayed the hazards of too much drink, especially whisky, but they made people laugh, they didn’t wag a censorious finger or make moral judgements.
Several times I’ve mentioned two globally best-selling whiskies which we hardly ever see, or have even heard of, in Britain. These are Label 5 (currently Number 9 in worldwide sales) and William Peel (Number 6).
No one can fail to notice the plethora of new distilleries—mainly distilling gin—sprouting on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, and across the sea in Ireland. I’ve lost track of all the gin distilleries in Scotland but keep an eye open for whisky distilleries.
For all that monasteries and convents are rare today, for centuries they were powerful institutions that played an important role in society. Monks were among the few people who could read and write in an era of near-total illiteracy. They also developed agricultural and scientific ideas and took them to other countries.
Anyone keen to try a dram from all the new distilleries springing up in Scotland would need plenty of stamina, a robust liver and a good chauffeur, as the distilleries are both plentiful and well scattered.
Distilling seems to be THE growth industry in these islands. This stems from growing global demand for spirits and to UK legal changes that encouraged the start-up of small, independent distilleries for the first time in two centuries. The new distillery list is formidable, with others being mooted and planned every month.
Despite increasing competition from other spirits, particularly gin, Scotch whisky holds a pretty dominant position in the global spirits business. One good barometer of that business is duty-free sales, predominantly at the world’s international airports.
For all the growing interest and publicity surrounding single malts, blended whiskies are still the volume sellers globally and in the UK. However, it is interesting to note how brands that sell well in the UK do not necessarily repeat that success overseas and brands that sell well globally are, very often, just also-rans on the UK market.
I don’t know whether people in the whisky industry are incurable optimists, but it has surprised me how very few industry spokespeople have commented critically on the possible effects of Brexit.
We know that alcohol and homo sapiens have been best buddies for thousands of years. However, it is still much debated: Is it the greatest social drug ever discovered? Or the bane of mankind?