A drink worth shouting about says Stephen Jardine
If you’ve made it this far into May without enjoying a dram, shame on you. However, today is the day to make amends. World Whisky Day is the annual international celebration of the water of life. Last year, events took place in every continent except Antarctica and this year, gatherings are planned from Sydney and Auckland to New York and Aberdeen. The key aim is to demystify whisky and open up enjoyment to anyone in every country.
This year, for the first time, World Whisky Day forms part of Whisky Month, which features a diverse range of events across the country, starting with the Spirit of Speyside Festival and running through to the Islay Festival at the end of the month.
It’s baffling it has taken so long to give whisky the recognition it deserves. Last year, overseas sales of whisky totalled £4.3 billion, making it second only to oil and gas in terms of value to the Scottish economy.
But direct sales are only the tip of the iceberg. To understand the real value of whisky for Scotland, you have to look carefully at where the sales take place. The US and France are our top two export markets and it is no coincidence they also provide many of our overseas visitors.
Whisky has always been marketed using the purity of our water and the beauty of our landscape. It’s a great advertising tool for Scotland as a whole, which explains the correlation between sales and strong visitor markets.
With South America and the Far East also delivering strong sales, the importance of whisky to marketing Scotland abroad in years to come cannot be underestimated.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is reinventing our national drink here at home. Last month in Singapore, I watched a group of twentysomethings order a bottle of Scotch and a bucket of mixers. That simply wouldn’t happen here because of the historical baggage we attach to whisky.
For many, the memory of old men in grim boozers drinking themselves into oblivion with nips of whisky and half pints of heavy makes it hard to see our national drink in a positive way.
But times change and the focus on enjoying responsibly, premium product and international sales has given whisky a new lease of life. World Whisky Day is a chance for us all to embrace the change and be proud of, and not embarrassed by, our national drink.
Most other nations would give anything to have something that introduces your country wherever you go – a drink that is synonymous with relaxation and celebration and inextricably linked to our amazing landscape and natural resources.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, and for too long we’ve taken whisky for granted. So let’s put down our Belgian lagers and Mexican tequilas and lift a glass today of something we do better than anyone else in the world.