Why we need a Minister for Scotch Whisky

Gavin Hewitt, Chief Executive, Scotch Whisky Association

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is a Century old this year.They’ve just launched a nice new website which is light years better than their old one. It’s much more representative of some of the rather nice literature they produce. For those not in the know, you be forgiven for thinking that this organisation, SWA is THE Whisky organisation in the World.

You might think they’re almost like a ‘Whisky Marketing Board’, an Independent body spending lots of money marketing Scotch whisky, in a very non brand-centric sort of way. You’d also probably think that EVERY whisky producer in Scotland in 100% behind them and steadfastly support every move they make. Protecting Scotland’s National Drink and promoting our product with a massive marketing budget. After all, you see painted buses, 48 sheet posters and all manner of advertising promoting Milk, surely Scotland’s National Drink will have an even bigger budget to promote the generic product? Right?


Whilst the SWA does sterling work in policy production and controlling what is and what isn’t ‘Scotch’, their role is a very legislative one. The promotion and the large-scale advertising is left to the ‘Industry’. There’s no Government organisation in Scotland that’s solely in charge of the actual promotion of Scotch Whisky. This brings a few problems. The first one is the fact that unsurprisingly, the big ‘Distillers’ have the biggest marketing budgets and because of this, the focus of media attention falls on the products they produce. In the view of a number of craft distillers, this is driving the whisky world down a generic, ‘blended’ route and is doing to Scottish Distilling what Lager did to Scottish Brewing. Detractors would argue that ‘the big boys’ don’t really care about craft, they just want to give the world a taste for a cheap-to-produce blended whisky, that they can churn out in the millions of litres.

The ‘big boys’ would respond to this by saying, the Global market is very bouyant and to meet the demands, Whisky in Scotland has got to gear up to meet this. So, whilst people might not like huge, NASA like, cutting-edge distilleries like Diageo’s Roseisle distillery, they are a necessary evil.

To voice their displeasure, some of Scotland’s really well known Distillers are NOT members of the SWA. Admittedly, there’s not many but we’ve found that in our travels, the SWA don’t get as good a ‘press’ as perhaps they deserve, or demand.

Which brings us round to the ‘bigger picture’ question, we’d like to ask all you whisky lovers out there. At the moment, Fergus Ewing is the man who looks after Scotch Whisky at Parliamentary level, in his job as Food and Drink Minister. With, beef and lamb, shellfish, dairy, salmon and other Scottish foodstuffs doing really well, we’d suggest that as Scotch exports bring in £134 a SECOND to UK coffers, is Scotch whisky not a big enough, iconic enough, uniquely Scottish enough and fast growing enough product to merit it’s OWN Minister?

At the moment, SWA are doing a fair job but is an Association where membership is voluntary and a Minister who is presently having to spread himself VERY thinly, really the best that Scotland can do to protect its  ‘Crown Jewels’?

The burgeoning export market is really exciting for Scotch Whisky but it also flags up a number of challenges. Only Scotland can make Scotch Whisky but ANYWHERE in the world can and does make excellent Malt Whisky. So without even entering into the ‘big is beautiful’ debate, there’s an increasing amount of competition for niche, boutique, crafted, bespoke, artisan whisky as well. The biggest pot still in the World has just been installed in Ireland and at the recent World Whisky Awards, Scotland didn’t really do too amazingly. It’s competitive! We need to really up our game and present a united front that’s much more consumer facing and powerful. Something with the might of the Government behind it.

We ask the simple question: Is a small window of a Minister’s increasingly packed diary and a governing body which is still a voluntary association really going to give Scotch Whisky the voice it needs in this massively-expanding Global market?

It was recently announced that Mexico is Accrediting their mescal sellers and as you might be suprised to hear, lots of areas in Mexico have Tequila days, which are local holidays. Scotland’s beginning to develop initiatives similar to this but at the moment, they’re the preserve of well meaning and independent companies (like us). We think it’s time for a Minister of Whisky who has clout to get some proper funding behind a unified sales and marketing approach, that’s not controlled by the ‘big boys’. A strategic masterplan which tells the world that Whisky is much more than a ‘product’, it’s part of the very fabric of Scotland. Whisky tourism is great for Scotland and it’s certainly not about a brand. It’s not really about drinking whisky at all. We need to let the world know this.

Some of the cleverest entrepreneurs to come out of Scotland put whisky on the Global map, well over 150 years ago. They were hungry, dynamic and they had an EXCELLENT eye for publicity, at a time when Scotland’s skillbase, transport and manufacturing might put it in a VERY strong position to capitalise on this marketing prowess. We don’t have this mastery of communications channels now.

We need to return this sales and marketing prowess to Scotland and we need a united front, with a large set of teeth to deliver it. Yes, Minister?



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