POLES have been distilling vodka since the Middle Ages. But now those living in Scotland have acquired such a taste for whisky that they are promoting it back home – and helping boost export sales to Poland tenfold over the past decade.
Latest figures from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) revealed exports to Poland have risen 38 per cent in the past year and are ten times higher than before the country joined the European Union in 2004.
A total of £60 million worth of Scottish whisky was exported to Poland last year, taking it into the top 20 export markets for the first time.
Demand was also strong in the US, where sales account for £1 in every £5 of Scotch exports, while exports to India were at their highest ever level.
Worldwide, sales of Scotch whisky remained steady in 2013, rising just 3 per cent in volume and flat at £4.3 billion in terms of sales value, the SWA said.
Marek Soleysiak, director of cultural organisation Polish Community in Scotland, said Poles who have settled in Britain since EU accession have returned home with a love of whisky. It is estimated there are around 40,000 Poles currently living north of the Border.
He said. “Polish people still living in Poland see their friends who are living in Scotland talking about going out and drinking whisky on social networking sites such as Facebook. It means whisky has become a big thing.
“Previously we would have drunk a lot of vodka, but now people are wanting to try something new.”
However, Mr Soleysiak admitted that the majority of Poles do not opt for expensive single malts, preferring to drink the beverage with a mixer.
“We usually drink whisky with Coke in Poland,” he said. “I know that Scots would not approve, but we have basically replaced vodka with whisky and drink them in the same way.”
Numerous bars dedicated to Scotland’s national drink have opened in Polish cities over the past few years, including Whisky Bar 88 in Poznan, which boasts 500 types of the spirit, and Highlander Whisky Bar in Olsztyn, where Macallan’s 18-year-old single malt sells for around £25 a dram.
However, the SWA’s Rosemary Gallagher said while cultural links between Scots and Poles had helped drive demand, changes in trade regulations had also given the export market a boost.
“Anecdotally, some of the rise could definitely be down to people moving here from Poland and getting to like whisky while they are living in Scotland,” she said.
“However, one of the major changes is that before they became part of the EU, there was an import tariff of 75 per cent on whisky and other spirits. Since that was dropped there has been significantly more trade with Poland.
Demand for high-end whiskies grew last year, the SWA said. Single malt exports were up 5 per cent in 2013 to reach a record £820m, nearly a fifth of exports by value.
Some parts of Asia did not perform as well as in previous years, principally because of slower economic growth and government austerity measures, the SWA said. Direct exports to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all fell in value.