It seems the great distillery renaissance that is sweeping Scotland and England is also sweeping across the whole of Ireland. That is good news, as Ireland saw its whiskey industry decimated nearly a century ago by a string of cruel circumstances.
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).
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.
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.
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?
New whisky distilleries are not just a Scottish phenomenon, they are springing up in England, too, even in London. So far there are six south of the Border, and all are keen to make their mark.
It is impossible to downplay the importance of the United States for the Scotch whisky industry. The Americans have long had a passion for Scotch and they are still our biggest export market by value (they like good malts and the best blends), although France is the biggest by volume.
One of the recent big developments in the global drinks market is how producers want to create a “total range portfolio” – of wines, beers and spirits, with one or more good named brands for every spirit: whisky, gin, rum, vodka, brandy and others.