Thursday, 10 March 2016

Is Scotland running out of whisky?

Nationwide panic sets in as the terrible truth is revealed!


Jings, crivens, help ma boab! Whit's this? The amber nectar, the uisge beatha, the aqua vitae, the water of life is rinnin' oot? Whit's a mon tae dae on a Setirday efter the gemme? Ye cannae droon yer sorries at yet anither mingin' show by yon showir o' numpties ye ca' a fitba' team wi a gless o' watter! No even ''Scotland's ither national drink'' will dae. Am tellin' ye it's a richt scunner so it is!


A glass of Scotch whisky
Photo by Guinnog/Wikimedia
CC-BY-SA 3.0
OK, that may be a slight over-dramatisation but Scotch whisky is a major export earner for, not just Scotland, but the UK as a whole accounting as it does for about 25% (financially speaking) of all food and drink exports from the UK and anything which has the potential to reduce exports of Scotch - not to mention affect its availability in its native land - is bad news indeed!

Two stories which came to light recently have sent shivers up and down the spines of Scotch whisky lovers worldwide. The most worrying one concerns the Inner Hebridean island of Islay and the amount of peat to be found there.


Whisky buffs will know that those malt whiskys produced on Islay are noted for their distinctive smoky, peaty character - a feature of the water and peat to be found on the island. Any whisky enthusiast will also be able to tell you that Islay is regarded as the ''jewel in the crown'' of whisky production in Scotland. It's nine distilleries lie in one of the five whisky distilling areas of Scotland which have their identity protected by law - only malt whiskys produced on Islay are entitled to be called ''Islay malts''. Even using exactly the same methods and processes if it isn't distilled on Islay it isn't a genuine ''Islay malt''.

So what's the problem with Islay?

Well, it's to do with the amount of peat which lies on the island. In the 1980s there was a report published on the amount of peat available for distilleries to use in the distilling of whisky but, apparently, the report got it wrong! There was a serious overestimation of the amount of peat on the island which lulled everyone into a false sense of security over whisky production on Islay.

Recent work on the feasibility of building a new distillery on Islay revealed that the amount of peat there is far less than originally estimated. In fact, some authorities believe that the peat stocks on Islay will run out well within the next ten years putting an end to the smoky, peaty whiskys distilled on the island. ''So what,'' you may say. ''Get peat from elsewhere and use that''. Unfortunately, that one probably won't work. There is indeed plenty of peat elsewhere in Scotland (and worldwide come to that) but peat isn't the same from locality to locality and it is the distinctiveness of Islay's peat which makes whisky distilled there so unique.


A pile of peat which has been dug out of the ground
Photo by Wojsyl at the Polish Language Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 3.0
Technically, it would be possible to add flavourings to a malt to match the original distinctive flavour of an Islay malt whisky but there is one big snag about that idea. The Scotch Whisky Regulations state that to qualify as Scotch Whisky a whisky must contain barley, water and no other ingredient (with the sole exception of E105a caramel colouring) so adding anything to replicate the original would result in a whisky which couldn't be called Scotch!

This potential problem has been known about by the distillers for some years now and a couple of the more forward-looking ones have started to move away from using peat in the distilling process so it will still be possible to buy an Islay malt into the foreseeable future and of course there are many other fine whiskys produced in Scotland so we aren't really ''rinnin' oot'' of the uisge beatha at all - thank heavens for that! Still, the wise Islay malt devotee may want to consider stocking up on Laphroaig while we still can.



More whisky misery!


I don't wish to pile even more misery onto worried whisky enthusiasts but there is another problem about Scotch whisky which is looming on the horizon involving a shortage of the older and rarer single malt whiskys from all over Scotland (not just those from Islay). All Scotch whiskys take at least three years to produce (this is the law in Scotland) and, of course, the older, more mature (and more expensive) whiskys, almost all of which are single malts, can take considerably longer - they are matured for up to 20 years or more for some.


A row of copper whisky still at the Glenfiddich distillery
Photograph by Oyoyoy/Wikimedia CC-BY-SA 3.0

Demand worldwide is growing for Scotch whisky and that demand is greatest for the top-of-the-range aged products but because these take so long to mature distilleries can't simply ''open the taps'' and distill more to meet this demand. Experts say that this shortage is already being felt and as a result availability is becoming restricted and prices are shooting upwards.

Fortunately, this situation will not last forever. In 10-15 years the problem will be solved when those aged malts currently maturing in barrels all over Scotland will be ready to be bottled and exported (which most Scotch whisky is) to customers all over the world. Let's hope they hold some back for a thirsty hillwalker in his dotage!

Sources: Wikipedia, in-text links

16 comments:

  1. I do love drinking a good tasting whiskey. I no longer drink. But days gone by I do still think about it.

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    1. This may be a shameful thing for a Scotsman to admit but I was never a great whisky drinker - I much prefer demerara rum!

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  2. Thank you for this enjoyable post

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    1. Glad you liked it and thanks for visiting.

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  3. Bill great post, I don't drink. Still sorry to here this is a problem for the UK

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    1. Solutions will be found to both of these problems. Scotch whisky is far too important to the nation's economy to be allowed to collapse.

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  4. Well! I reckon there will be some happy wives or will there? I don't drink but maybe once a year, and maybe one drink. I get drunk easily :) But I am a happy drubk and not a fighting drunk.

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  5. Love your broad Scots start to this article. Nae whisky! Jings!

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    1. I would venture a guess that many people were scratching their heads over that intro!

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  6. I don't drink, well except sweet tea, so it wouldn't bother me, but I'm sure those that love to sip whiskey may be upset. Love your photos.

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    1. Scotland is famous for its ''good ole' sippin' liquor''!

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  7. Oh no! not the Scotch! :) I used to have Glenfiddich (sp) the odd winter night and loved it. It was getting too expensive for me but may just go there again- lovely smooth taste~ now I feel I should try to pick up a bottle and savour it- tee hee!

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    1. I was never a great whisky drinker but my eldest son (my Wingman of our hillwalking adventures) strives to be a connoisseur and he likes a good Islay malt.

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  8. I live a couple of miles away from a U.S. distillery called Virginia Distillery Co. They specialize in single malt whisky. It is new. Here is the website: http://vadistillery.com/visitors-center

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