The number of distilleries across England has outstripped those in Scotland for the first time in what has been described as an historic moment.
Scotland’s status as the stronghold of UK distilling has been on the wane in recent years thanks to an explosion in small craft producers south of the Border, but new figures from HMRC confirm England now commands the lion’s share of distilleries, with 166 compared with Scotland’s 160.
While 11 new distillery licences were issued in Scotland last year, nearly three times as many were handed out in England.
The shift has been attributed to the so-called “gin-aissance”, with producers in England rushing to meet demand at a time when gin sales are at an all-time high.
But the Scottish Distillers Association stressed it was “not time to hit the panic button” in the home of Scotch.
According to HMRC’s figures, Scotland’s dominance in the distillery market was standing firm at the turn of the decade. While there were 90 distilleries in Scotland in 2010, England had just 23 to its name.
But the gap closed dramatically in the years that followed, with the number of English distilleries more than doubling between 2014 and 2017.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said: “With England now boasting more distilleries than its Scottish cousins, 2018 really has marked a moment in history.”
Mr Beale pointed the “growing number of excellent quality English and Welsh whiskies” as a reassuring sign that spirit makers are continuing to “innovate, invest and grow”.
However, the HMRC data does not distinguish by type of spirit produced, nor the size of the distilleries.
Professor Alan Wolstenholme, chairman of the Scottish Distillers Association, said the statistic was “quite remarkable”, but Scottish distilleries comfortably outstripped their English counterparts in terms of output.
He said: “It’s not a contest between Scotland and England. We’re seeing a lot of small and regional distilleries across the UK. I don’t see any reason to hit the panic button.
Graeme Littlejohn of the Scotch Whisky Association said: “With the global demand for Scotch whisky growing, there are now 128 distillers operating across Scotland, the most at any time since the end of the Second World War.
“This number is expected to grow further in 2019, with up to ten new Scotch whisky distilleries expected to begin production.”