It is interesting how whisky distilling has changed, from the days of illicit stills in remote caves to the big pot and column stills of today. Yet the central process, separating alcohol from water, remains the same.
This summer has spawned many articles and TV programmes on 1918, being the year women – or at least some of them – got the vote and the First World War ended.
During a recent long wait at Heathrow airport, I spent a considerable time touring the duty-free shop and the nearby World of Whiskies outlet. It was not an uplifting experience.
If there is one place in Britain where I suspect the Scottish Government is the No 1 pet hate, it is in Cornwall and the West Country. Why? Because their minimum pricing policy has effectively decimated sales of cider in Scotland. A two-litre bottle of supermarket’s-own cider has spiralled from £2 to £5 (that’s 150%) and canned ciders have also suffered crippling price rises.
It happened a third of a century ago, and to many it’s an event as distant as Flodden or Agincourt. However, the battle for Distillers, Scotland’s then-biggest whisky firm, in the mid-1980s proved a mega-earthquake that shook the whisky industry, the City, the Stock Exchange and, frankly, the whole of Britain as never before. And, for good or ill, it ushered in an unscrupulous way of doing business that, sadly, has become almost wholly the norm.
For the most part, the big-name blends and malts seem to have an immortality all their own. Somehow their names and repute liveth for ever in the public mind, ensuring they remain on the shelves and whisky websites decade after decade.
Aberdeenshire, and the North-East generally, have lost many distilleries over the decades, but those which have survived are currently thriving. These include Fettercairn, Royal Lochnagar, Glengarioch, Macduff/Glen Deveron, Ardmore, Glendronach, Glenglassaugh and the quaintly-named An Cnoc.
It is interesting to contemplate how certain drinks (or brands) acquired their names. Wines are often named after their home village or area. Single malts are named after the distilleries that produce them. Other drinks are named after the company founder, be he Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam or Mr Heineken.
Britain’s recent surge of new distilleries largely stems from law changes that opened up distilling to small firms, even private individuals, for the first time in more than two centuries.
As someone who has banged on for years about the great potential of whisky tourism, I must applaud Diageo’s recently-unveiled £150 million plans to boost the cratur to our visitors.