Scotch whisky exports have risen by 4% in a year to more than £4 billion, marking a return to growth for the sector.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said the increase means it is “optimistic about the future” but called for a sector deal for Scotland’s national drink in Brexit negotiations to help combat uncertainty.
The association’s 2016 export report found overseas sales of Scotch whisky rose by £153 million from 2015 to £4,008,927,149 last year.
The number of bottles dispatched increased by 4.8% between 2015 and 2016 to more than 1.2 billion, meaning almost 39 bottles worth a total of £127 were exported per second.
Both the value and volume of Scotch exports returned to positive annual growth rates for the first time since 2011.
Single malt exports were worth more than £1 billion for the first time, up by almost 12% on 2015 to £1.02 billion, the equivalent of 113 million bottles.
However, bottled blended versions of the drink remains the biggest export category, accounting for 69% of value and volumes exported in 2016.
Last year, Scotch remained the biggest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade in goods and without its benefit the UK trade in goods deficit would have been 2.8% larger at almost £139 billion.
The drink accounts for more a fifth of the UK’s total food and drink exports and 73% of the sector in Scotland, with the European Union remaining the top destination for exports, rising 3.6% in value over the year to £1.24 billion, followed by the US, which took exports worth more than £1 billion.
READ MORE: How rare whisky is funding community projects on Islay SWA acting chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said: “With Scotch whisky exports returning to growth and rising to more than £4 billion, and single malts exceeding £1 billion for the first time, we’re feeling optimistic about the future.
“Demand is rising in mature markets, such as the US, and newer markets, including China.
“This confidence is reflected in the number of new distilleries - 14 have been opened in the last few years and we know of about another 40 at various stages of planning.
“However, we have to be alert to the challenges, as well as the opportunities, of Brexit and political changes in the UK and across the globe.
“Industry success can’t be taken for granted and we need both the UK and Scottish governments to work in partnership with us to deliver a business environment - at home and overseas - that supports sustainable growth.”