[Navigation toolbar]

Section 7: Scotch Whisky and the Consumer

Why is Scotch Whisky so expensive in Britain?

Because taxation is extremely high, accounting for around 70% of the retail price of a bottle of standard blended whisky.

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.

How does the rate of duty on Scotch Whisky compare with that on other alcoholic liquors?

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 Whisky.

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.

Why is whisky duty-free at sea?

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.

How many brands of Scotch Whisky are there?

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.

What are the best blends?

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.

Some Scotch Whisky has a smoky flavour. What causes this?

The smoky flavour of certain Scotch Whiskies originates from the peat fire over which the green malt is dried prior to grinding and mashing.

Is it possible to tell the difference between one brand of Scotch Whisky and another by smell alone?

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 makes perfect.

How old should the best Scotch Whisky be?

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 average.

Does Scotch Whisky in a bottle lose its strength with age?

Once bottled, whisky does not lose its strength.

Does Scotch Whisky improve in a bottle which is kept sealed?

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.

What causes Whisky to lose its brightness?

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.

At what temperature is whisky best served?

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.

Is the bouquet of Scotch Whisky improved by warming slightly?

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 the aroma.

What is the best shape of a whisky glass?

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.

What is the measure at which Scotch Whisky is generally sold across the counter?

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 deadline.

What information must by law be given on the label of a bottle of Scotch Whisky sold in the home market?

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.

Does it spoil or improve the flavour of Scotch Whisky to put ice into it as a drink?

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.

Why do some people turn a new bottle of Scotch Whisky upside down before opening?

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.

Is it injurious to drink whisky with oysters or other shellfish?

No. This is an ancient superstition for which there is no foundation. A personal experiment will furnish the proof.

What is the difference between Scotch Whisky and gin?

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 spirit afterwards.

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.

What is the alcoholic strength of Scotch Whisky?

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.

What are the usual alcoholic strengths of other drinks?

				Percentage of alcohol
				content by volume

Cognac, Gin, Rum		40
Vodka				37.5
Fortified wine			20
Champagne			13.1
Table Wines			11
Beer				3.13 to 5.18

How should one drink Scotch Whisky?

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