Section 7: Scotch Whisky and the Consumer
Because taxation is extremely high, accounting for
around 70% of the retail price of a bottle of standard
This includes Value Added Tax which is levied on
the total retail price, including Excise Duty. The
remainder of the retail price goes towards paying for
manufacturing and storage costs, transport,
advertising, selling, administration expenses and
wholesale and retail profits. The Government is thus
by far the biggest beneficiary.
The Excise Duty paid on mature spirits is the same
regardless of whether they are produced in this
country or abroad. Scotch Whisky is not protected in
any way against competition from spirits produced
overseas, even those from the countries which
themselves discriminate against imports of Scotch
At the same time Scotch Whisky is now much more
heavily taxed than most competing drinks. Scotch
Whisky is therefore discriminated against when
competing in the UK market against imported wines.
The only reduction in the Excise Duty since the last
century was that made in 1973. when the rate was
lowered to compensate for the extra taxation which
resulted from the introduction of Value Added Tax. By
contrast, during the last few years more than once
there have been reductions in the duty on high
strength wines such as Sherry and Port, on sparkling
wines, on beer and on British wines which are made
largely from imported grape juice.
Whisky for consumption on board ships at sea is
'ship's stores'. Ship's stores means goods of any kind
(whether dutiable or non-dutiable, and whether of
British manufacture or imported) taken on board an
'outward-bound' ship for officers, crew and
passengers during the voyage. Outward-bound means
bound for 'an eventual destination outside the United
Kingdom'. Ship's stores have from time immemorial been
free of duty, just as goods exported as cargo to countries
overseas are. The theory is that the stores are in effect
exports. in that they are consumed outside United
Kingdom territory, and that the Treasury cannot expect to
collect the duty they would bear if consumed at home.
Whisky after distillation is stored (without paying duty)
in a bonded warehouse to mature, and whisky shipped as
stores or exported goes direct from the bonded warehouse
to the ship. HM ships are included in these regulations.
A similar situation exists in relation to sales of
whisky on international (but not domestic) airline
services and sales at duty-free shops at airports and
ports. If such whisky is taken off the ship or aircraft,
subject to local allowances. duty becomes payable.
'Coasting ships' which ply from port to port round
the coast. and vessels which ply on rivers or other
inland waters, are not outward-bound and do not get
whisky or any other stores duty-free.
There are about 100 well-known brands on the home market
and many more are exported, but it would be impossible to
count every brand of Scotch Whisky marketed. Many of them
are sold only locally or to private clubs and individuals.
This is entirely a matter of taste. All the well-known
brands on the market are blended by experts of many
years' experience, and consumers can be confident that
in choosing their favourite they are drinking a whisky
consistently blended to bring out the best
characteristics of the Malt and Grain Whiskies of
which it is composed.
The smoky flavour of certain
Scotch Whiskies originates from the peat fire over
which the green malt is dried prior to grinding and
Yes. it is possible to differentiate between
different well-known established brands of Scotch
Whisky by smell alone if one is sufficiently expert and
experienced. The blenders employed by the blending and
bottling firms, who blend the different whiskies which
go to make the customary brands. are guided by smell
alone in producing a uniform product over the years. At
the most they moisten their hands with a little of the
spirit. Usually it is enough to smell the whisky in a
glass. For the drinker who is not a professional blender.
the only thing is to go on experimenting u til practice
It is not possible to lay down any precise age as being the best
for a particular whisky. Generally speaking, Malt
Whiskies require longer to mature fully than Grain
Whiskies. The law insists that Scotch Whisky shall be at
least three years old, and many overseas countries have
similar provisos varying from three to five years. It is
the practice of the trade to mature for substantially
longer than the legal minimum. Malt Whiskies are
normally matured for up to 15 years and sometimes even
longer. When an age is quoted for a blended whisky, it is
the age of the youngest single Malt or Grain Whisky in the
blend, no matter how small the amount. It is never an
Once bottled, whisky does not lose its strength.
No. There is no change in a whisky once it
has been bottled and securely sealed. As oxygen in the air
cannot get to the whisky there is no further maturing.
If the whisky is reduced to a low temperature or stored in
very cold conditions it may become cloudy. but this
cloudiness will disappear when the whisky is brought
back to a normal temperature. It has been found that when
whisky is actually chilled to temperatures below
freezing-point the cloud formed becomes a deposit and if
this is filtered off. the whisky will then retain its
brightness under all conditions of temperature.
Unfortunately. the removal of the deposit produced by
very low temperatures also entails the removal of some
of the flavour.
This is entirely a matter of personal choice and no
rules, such as chilling for certain wines, can be laid
down. In the United Kingdom it is usually served at
room temperature, but in some overseas countries the
convention has grown up of putting ice in the glass.
The bouquet of Scotch Whisky
cannot be improved by warming. The effect of such
warming would only be to increase the rate of
evaporation of the spirit. thus speeding up the release of
A tumbler-shaped glass or goblet is probably the most
convenient shape. but whisky does not require any
specific shape to enhance its delights and no rigid
convention has grown up in this connection.
The Weights and
Measures Act of 1963 provides for three standard
measures which are one-quarter, one-fifth and one-sixth
of a gill, equal respectively to one-and-a-quarter fluid
ounces. one fluid ounce and five-sixths fluid ounce. The
proprietor of licensed premises must display a notice in
the bar showing which of these quantities he is serving. In
Scotland the usual measure is one-fifth of a gill and in
England one-sixth is more common.
However, after 31 December 1994 it will no longer be permissable
to sell spirits using imperial measures. Scotch Whisky, together with
gin, vodka and rum, will be dispensed in licensed premises in measures
of either 25ml or 35ml. An amendment to Weights and Measures
legislation already recognises 25ml as a legal measure. Legislation to
permit the 35ml measures will be enacted in good time for the 1994
The liquid measure of the contents, e.g. 70cl and the strength. e.g. 40%
vol. must be stated on the label, together with the name and
address of the bottler.
This is entirely a matter of
personal taste. Similarly to mix soda water or other soft drinks with
Scotch Whisky is a question of individual choice.
This is quite
unnecessary and can do nothing to improve the whisky, which does
not need to be turned upside down or shaken. It is quite erroneous
to think that the essential constituents settle at the bo~~t,tom. The
blended whisky is all one weight and is therefore the same at top or
bottom. The habit of cocktail shaking may be the reason why one
occasionally sees a bottle turned upside down.
No. This is an ancient superstition for which there is no
foundation. A personal experiment will furnish the proof.
Both are potable spirits, but differ in their
methods of manufacture and the ingredients used. Their
characters, flavour and content of secondary constituents
are very different.
The spirit base of gin is flavourless. It is first
distilled in a Patent Still from a mash of cereals and is
then rectified and the juniper and other flavouring
materials are added. The rectified spirit may be
redistilled with the flavouring materials or these
materials may be distilled separately and added to the
The aroma and flavour of Scotch Whisky are inherent
within the spirit itself and depend chiefly on the water
and method of distillation used. The secondary
constituents are subsidiary, though important, products
of the manufacturing process itself. They are native to
the whisky and inseparable from it.
Both Scotch Whisky and gin are colourless when they leave
the still but whisky derives some colour from the casks in
which it is matured. Whisky which is matured in
former fresh oak sherry casks is usually, after
maturation, a darker colour than that which is matured in
refilled white oak casks. The blender, who aims at uniformity
in his product year in year out,brings his whisky to a
definite standard colour by adding, if necessary, a small
amount of colouring solution prepared from caramelised
sugar. In relation to the volume of whisky involved, the
amount of colouring matter is infinitesimal.
Unlike whisky, rectified spirits such as gin and vodka
are not matured. They can be consumed immediately and
they usually reach the consumer in the form in which
they issue from the still and without colour.
When distilled it is usually reduced for
filling into casks at a strength of 68.5 per cent of
alcohol by volume.
The minimum bottling strength is 40 per cent
volume. 43 per cent volume is often found in export
markets, with occasional upward variations.
Percentage of alcohol
content by volume
Cognac, Gin, Rum 40
Fortified wine 20
Table Wines 11
Beer 3.13 to 5.18
In whatever way gives you enjoyment and pleasure. This
depends entirely on your individual taste and on the
occasion, for Scotch Whisky is a versatile drink, superb
in its own right and a fine mixer in any company. It is
frequently served on its own or with a little water, but it
can also be a refreshing 'long' drink with ice and a mixer.
Scotch Whisky itself presents a whole range of flavours
which can be extended by the addition of soda or mineral
water. Lemonade, ginger ale or other mixers. Many
cocktails contain Scotch Whisky and Section 11 details
several examples. Increasingly, blended Scotch is being
appreciated as a drink which can be served during a meal
in place of wines while single malts are growing in
popularity as after dinner drinks.
© SWA 1995