What is the history of charging duty on Scotch Whisky?

The Scots Parliament in 1644 passed an Excise Act fixing the duty at [13.3p] per pint of aquavitae or other strong liquor - the Scots pint being approximately one third of a gallon. For the remainder of the 17th Century various alterations were made to the types and amounts of duty collected.

After the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, English revenue staff crossed the border to begin their lengthy attempts to bring whisky production under control. Ninety years later the excise laws were in such a hopeless state of confusion that no two distilleries were taxed at the same rate. Illicit distilling flourished, the smugglers seeing no good reason for paying for the privilege of making their native drink.

After a lengthy Royal Commission. the Act of 1823 sanctioned legal distilling at a duty of [11.25p] per gallon for stills with a capacity of more than 40 gallons. There was a licence fee of 10 annually and no stills under the legal limit were allowed. The first distillery came into 'official' existence in the following year and thereafter many of the more far-sighted distillers came over on to the side of the law. In 1840. the duty was [2.1p] per bottle and by the beginning of the First World War it had risen to [8.5p]. In 1939, a typical bottle of Scotch Whisky cost [71p] of which [48p] was duty. By 1992, after a succession of duty increases, the same bottle was costing around 10.80. The duty on it was 5.55, the equivalent of 19.81 per litre of pure alcohol.

Since 1973 the price of a bottle of whisky, including the Excise Duty, has been subject to a Value Added Tax.

Movement of Excise Duties

The following table gives an indication of how the Excise Duty payable on a typical bottle of Scotch Whisky has increased during the present century. Figures for the earlier dates have been converted to decimal currency.
Date	Duty per bottle/
1900	0.065p
1920	0.42p 
1940	0.57p
1947	1.11p
1968	1.20p
1975	1.57p
1980	1.56p
1985	4.73p
1990	5.21p

© SWA 1995