It may be a cliché but certain families have whisky in their blood — namely, the urge to make good whisky passes from generation to generation.
It is fascinating how certain factors can affect markets that, to the outsider at least, seem utterly remote and unconnected.
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.
The German writer and philosopher Goethe once wrote: “Where there is the brightest light, there is also the darkest shadow.”
It has always struck me that people in these islands – especially Scots and the Irish – have a strange attitude to drink, epitomised by a onetime friend who once said: “If I can remember the end of a party, it wasn’t a good one.” Of all folk in Western Europe, it seems we (especially when young) too often drink only to get tanked rather than enjoy the great taste and inner relaxation drink can bring.
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.
For thousands of years mankind has been drinking alcohol, chemically known as ethanol. True, there are other alcohols, but most are severely toxic to humans. To make alcohol, one basically mixes a sugary liquid with zymase-containing yeast that turns the sugar to ethanol and CO2 (carbon dioxide).
The Scotch whisky industry will undoubtedly be seriously affected by Brexit. After all, France is the biggest export market by volume for Scotch, although exports to the US have higher value as Americans tend to buy rare and old malts whereas France buys cheap blends in bulk. Many other EU countries buy big volumes of the cratur, adding up to the biggest single market for it.
Last week I commented on how the 21st Century whisky industry is widely scattered with its various stages (malting, then fermenting and distilling, and finally warehousing, blending and bottling) taking place at different locations —with everything being shifted between locations by truck. And that this is very different to how the industry operated 100-120 years ago.
The burnished copper stills seen in every malt distillery have become both a symbol of the whisky industry and, to a lesser extent, a sort of Scottish icon. And, as the industry continues to win new converts to the cratur across the world, the demand for stills keeps increasing. Which in turn is good news for the firms that make the stills and related distillery equipment.