Wednesday, 24th August 2011
Adapting to global demand for whisky galore
A copy of this article was originally published in the Stirling Observer on 24 August 2011.
Those who think that politicians are incapable of bringing happiness to people’s lives must seek out the newly re-released 1949 British cinema classic, ‘Whisky Galore’.
If you haven’t seen the film, you may know the true story on which it is based. In 1941 the S.S. Politician, bound for Jamaica, was wrecked off the coast of Eriskay in the Hebrides with 250,000 bottles of Scotch whisky in her holds.
Ever resourceful, the plucky islanders took it upon themselves to salvage the precious cargo, only to incur the humourless wrath of the local excise men. In the film, a light-hearted game of cat-and-mouse ensues as the locals run rings around the officers of the law, stashing crates on hillsides and under beds and making merry on their bounty.
All too often the legacy of violence and ill-health that over-consumption of drink can lead to reflects badly on Scottish society. Yet though ‘Whisky Galore’ doubtless lends a touch of artistic license to real events, it happily and rightly rejoices in the close-knit Scottish heritage which produces what has become a pillar of Scotland’s commercial hopes in the 21st century.
Indeed, there is much to rejoice in right now. Our whisky industry is one of the crown jewels of the Scottish economy. In all, 108 distilleries are licensed to produce authentic Scotch whisky, employing some 10,300 people the length and breadth of Scotland. What’s more, whisky is our biggest drinks export, fuelling recovery from the recent downturn. In all, the industry generated a staggering £3.45 billion for the UK’s balance of trade in 2010.
And the success story looks set to continue for some time to come, as global demand surges and barriers to exports are overcome. A milestone Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and South Korea came into force on 1 July this year, and another potentially more lucrative FTA is close to being completed with India.
Scotch whisky is expected to reap huge benefits from these agreements which provide crucial protection for products with ‘geographical indications’. The immediate removal of Korea’s 20% import tariff on spirits will be particularly welcomed by firms looking to consolidate their positions, or gain a foothold there.
I recently took the opportunity to invite some fellow MEPs who are instrumental in negotiating such agreements on behalf of the EU, to get a first-hand look at how Scottish distilleries are adapting to cope with the growing global market.
During a tour of Diageo’s Roseisle Distillery in Speyside, our group, which included Gabriele Albertini MEP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, Sir Robert Atkins MEP, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Astrid Lulling MEP, chair of the European Parliament Wine Intergroup, was shown how a £40m investment has contributed, not only to boosted production, but also to the company’s ambitious environmental targets.
Roseisle was constructed using a combination of modern environmental technologies and traditional distilling techniques, making it one of the most environmentally sustainable Scotch whisky distilleries. The majority of the by-products are recycled on site in a bioenergy facility, helping the distillery to generate most of its own energy and reduce potential CO2 emissions by approximately 13,000 tonnes, the equivalent to taking 10,000 family cars off the road.
Roseisle distillery provides a glowing example of how the industry can adapt to meet global demand while thriving in the face of growing EU pressure to help meet emissions targets. Yet the islanders of ‘Whisky Galore’ would be glad to know that the industry isn’t losing sight of the heritage which helps make this product so cherished both at home and abroad.
And we should all raise a dram to that.
STRUAN STEVENSON MEP