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.
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