Why is it ok for Macallan and Glenrothes (and maybe others) but not Compass Box?
Facebook today has been awash with the news that Compass Box has been instructed by the SWA not to detail the individual components of two of their new bottlings, ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’ and ‘Flaming Heart’ as it contravenes the EU Spirit Drinks Regulation No 110/2008 (and the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009) which say that you are only allowed to state the age of the youngest whisky component in the ‘description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink, including advertising, promotion and images’.
Now funnily enough, my husband (who works at independent bottler, William Cadenhead) had been having a rant about these very regulations not that long ago (when I was writing my post about This is Not a Luxury Whisky in fact) and was wondering how Compass Box had got round them (although it now turns out they just ignored them). As Mark says, ‘I would love to put more information on the labels of our Cadenhead’s Creations, or any of our other blends, but I can’t unless all the whisky comes from the same year, which doesn’t happen very often. So as things stand I’m limited to just telling people the names of the distilleries in the blend. I think the regulations are ridonkulous (sometimes he makes up words! - ed.) and I can’t imagine any other food or drinks rulings that would encourage such a lack of transparency. I’m not saying you should have to give detailed information, but if you want to, and it is truthful, then it should be encouraged rather than be illegal. This rule stinks of Fifa! (I don’t do football so this reference is completely over my head - ed.)’
I totally agree with Mark here (which doesn’t happen that often!) - the rules are ridiculous. But, rules are rules (as I said before in my NAS post). For me, the interesting thing about this whole hoo-ha is the questions it raises;
Why the lack of transparency?
Firstly, the SWA are an industry body to protect the interests of the Scotch Whisky industry. Why is a lack of transparency in the industry’s best interests? Like Mark, I don’t think giving detailed information should be compulsory. For big, commercial blends it would be completely impractical and totally go against what they are all about - producing large volumes of a consistent product where the ingredients available to them may change but the flavour profile stays the same. But, and this is a big but, if producers do want to tell us exactly what is in their blend (or blended malt or single malt) then they should be allowed to do so.
Which brings me to the second question, who benefits from this lack of transparency? I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that maybe the big boys think that if listing all the components is allowed then that would be a step towards it being encouraged and that may lead to it being compulsory. And I can understand why blenders wouldn’t want to have to publish their recipes every time they do a new batch. Not just from the point of view of not wanting their competitors to have that information, but also because it would be a logistical nightmare!
Who grassed them up?
Next question, ‘Who dobbed Compass Box in, and why?’ Was it just a clever marketing stunt by John Glaser? If so, it hats off to him as it has certainly generated plenty of publicity! The SWA though, said they were acting following a complaint by a member. As far as I can see Compass Box are not members of the SWA, although I could be wrong on that one. Why would another whisky company complain about someone truthfully stating exactly what is in their blend, especially when that company is quite a small, niche producer, and unlikely to impact on any of the big boys global sales? Again, I can only think of the reason above.
Why do the rules not apply to everyone?
Finally, do the rules apply to everyone equally or are they only enforced if someone tells tales? To me, it certainly doesn’t look like a level playing field. I know that Compass Box have been told to stop advertising the truth (sorry, components in their blend) and that Arran stopped listing the different cask ages that went into the Devils Punchbowl (not sure whether the SWA forced that or not though). However, a quick google search reveals other companies that are also in breach of the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations;
I’m not singling these two companies out for any malicious reasons, these were just the first examples that I found. I’m sure there are others. Why has the SWA not told them to change their ways? Is it just because nobody has dobbed them in? If you are going to enforce a ridiculous rule, then it should be enforced across the board, not just when someone complains.
What is Luxury?
I have been moaning for quite some time now about the vast numbers of ‘luxury’ whiskies being released on the market which seemed to be more about the packaging and brand image than the product inside. To my mind, the word ‘luxury’ implied an element of quality or craftsmanship to justify the ridiculously high price tag. Compass Box’s new release inspired me to do a bit of research into what ‘luxury’ actually means, in the literal sense, and I must say I was surprised.
I checked 3 different English dictionaries; Chambers, Collins and the OED (I studied languages, I have a lot of dictionaries in the house) and not one of them mentions the word ‘quality’ in the definition. Expensive, rich, indulgent, yes. But not a word about being quality. I even checked the French Petit Robert and Spanish Santillana dictionaries (told you I had a lot of dictionaries) but no mention of quality there either. So I was wrong. Turns out a whisky doesn’t need to be quality at all to describe itself as luxury - a high price tag alone is justification enough it seems if we follow the dictionary definition.
In that sense then, Compass Box’s new release may not be considered ‘luxury’ - it’s £150 price tag, while not cheap, is fairly tame compared to many whiskies on the market these days.
The good thing about dictionaries though, is that they generally offer more than one definition. Another definition of ‘luxury’ is ‘something that is pleasant and enjoyable but not essential’. This definition pleases me a lot more. By that token, any whisky that brings enjoyment can be called ‘luxury’ regardless of how much, or how little, it costs. Of course, the question of whether it brings enjoyment or pleasure or not depends entirely on the individual, so everyone will have a different idea of what a ‘luxury’ whisky is to them.
So, by my reckoning, if you like Compass Box’s new release then it is a luxury whisky. If you don’t like it, it’s not. Simple! The same logic could apply for any whisky from the cheapest blend, to the most expensive single malt. Luxury, like beauty, would appear to be in the eyes of the beholder.
Now, I have so far resisted writing a blog post to flog my own products however I have had a burst of efficiency of late and managed to create not only a new product line but also a dedicated Whisky Impressions facebook page so I felt I was justified in sharing this with you!
So, first things first, the new arrival. I initially had the idea of doing a Cask End T-Shirt for different distilleries but then I thought it would be much more fun if the T-Shirt could be personalised, giving you lovely people the chance to own a completely unique design, with your own personal information making up the Cask End. There were a few logistic wrinkles to sort out first (like how to get round minimum order quantities) but I am pleased to say that I’m now up and running!
Here are some designs to give you an idea of the type of thing that you could get;
But you don’t need to stop there. It would make a fantastic anniversary present (particularly for a 2nd wedding anniversary, which is traditionally a gift made of cotton) Or you could get one to promote your whisky club, blog, festival, website, trip, distillery (any Visitor Centre managers reading this?) etc. The only limit is your imagination… well, and a few technical considerations. Firstly and most importantly, please be sensible with the number of characters in each line - I can only fit so much in! Secondly, the characters must be from the roman alphabet and I’m afraid certain symbols, special characters and accents may not be available.
Since the t-shirt will be to your own specifications, I will of course email you a proof for approval before printing. The lead time will be a bit longer than usual because they are printed to order but I expect to be able to dispatch in within around 14 days. As with all other products on my website, the price includes free worldwide postage. T-Shirts are available in Men's/Unisex and Ladies' fit, in a wide range of colours and in sizes S - XXL. Should you happen to be looking for 25 or more t-shirts of the same design, please give me a shout before you order as I may be able to offer you a reduced rate!
Now, if you were paying attention, I mentioned at the top of the post that I also have a new Facebook page. So, to celebrate this milestone I am offering one lucky person the chance to win their very own personalised cask end t-shirt, completely free of charge. All you need to do is like my facebook page, and share the competition post by midnight tomorrow (Wed 2nd Sept, midnight UK time) to be in with a chance to win! Winner will be drawn at random and I’ll get in touch afterwards via facebook to discuss their t-shirt requirements!
Good luck everyone! And if you don’t win, you can always console yourself by buying one!
From Washback to Photo Block
I love these photo blocks by Campbeltown photographer Will Anderson - I spotted them when I was in the Campbeltown Cadenhead's Whisky Shop the other day and was very jealous I hadn't thought of it first! (Mind you, my photography skills are not quite up to Will's standard so probably just as well it was him that thought of it and not me.)
They're made using bits of an old Springbank washback and (unused) bungcloths which gives them a really nice chunky, rustic style. It's great to see bits of old distillery kit being given a new lease of life - some of the washback has also been used for shelving and displays in the recently expanded whisky shop. Lot of wood in a washback though so I wonder where else we're going to see it pop up - will keep you posted if I spot it in any other incarnations!
For some reason our copy of the 4th Edition of Scotch Missed by Brian Townsend arrived some 10 days before the official release date so thought I’d do a wee preview review for anyone out there considering buying it. When I say ‘our’ copy, I really mean my husband’s copy (but what’s his is mine, right?) - he is a total whisky geek and has had this on order for months now. We already have the first edition in the house so I admit I was initially skeptical about why he needed two copies of the same book. Having perused the new 4th Edition over the last couple of days though, I can see why as it is not the same book at all!
I’ll rephrase that. Parts of the book are the same. It is after all a book about Lost Distilleries so once they are closed, there’s not really anything else to add. There are however a number of striking differences between the two editions (I should point out here that I haven’t read the 2nd and 3rd editions, published in 1997 and 2000 respectively, so cannot include them in my comparisons. Don't know why they are missing from our whisky library, Mark must have slipped up somewhere!)
Firstly the design and layout is so much better! (I’m interested in design ok, I like things to be aesthetically pleasing). Divided into geographical sections, the lost distilleries are accompanied by a very eclectic mix of images; old and new photos, bottle shots, old marketing postcards and posters. Most of the distillery entries also have a picture of the old OS map showing the location, which I love. I would love it even more if the maps were zoomed out a bit more so you could situate the distilleries better in comparison to existing roads etc but that’s just me being very picky.
Secondly the content has also been updated. Yes, as I already mentioned, a lot of the content is the same but there is quite a lot of new stuff too - some 30 extra distilleries have been added since the first 1993 edition; from Brora and Port Ellen, two iconic closed distilleries mothballed in the 80s which I would have expected to be included in the first edition but weren't (maybe they were still classed as mothballed rather than lost) to the half dozen mothballed in 1992/1993 and the more recent closures such as Caperdonich and Port Dundas. However there are also a handful of very old (ie closed in the second half of the 1800s) distilleries which have been added and three ‘lost and found’ distilleries which have risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes since the first edition; Annandale, Glengyle and Imperial/Dalmunach. Interestingly over half of the new additions have some connection to Diageo, or UD/SMD/DCL as was, so I would imagine the author has had access to the Diageo archives since the first edition!
My only criticism, and this is me being very picky, is that I would have liked to see more photos from the present day to compare with what was there before. Admittedly this is not very interesting when the buildings have been completely razed to make way for a supermarket or housing scheme but when there are some vestiges, or indeed complete buildings, left of the original distillery it would be interesting to see. A wee photo of the new Annandale, Glengyle and Dalmunach distilleries would have made a nice addition I feel. As would one of Parkmore, which is described as, ‘externally the most perfect survivor of the late 1890s boom in distilleries’, but there is no photo showing how it looks now. (Incidentally, local chat in Dufftown, where I used to live, attributed the closure of Parkmore to problems with the water supply, possibly due to the limestone quarry nearby, but this may just be local gossip). As I say though, this is me being picky, and there are limits to how many photos one can reasonably fit in a book.
All in all, a very enjoyable read, written in an accessible, engaging style. One for the history buffs rather than the casual drinker though. And definitely worth buying even if you already have the first edition!
Inspired by the book, I had a wander round Campbeltown this afternoon and took some photos of our lost distilleries. Some are more recognisably still distilleries than others!
Okay, so admittedly a housing scheme and a supermarket don't make for the most interesting 'lost distillery' photos. Let's try again...
The Glen Scotia renaissance
Walking along High Street in Campbeltown the other day I was stuck by how nice and well cared for Glen Scotia was looking these days. I’ve lived in Campbeltown, on and off, all my life and believe me, Glen Scotia has never looked so good! In fact it always used to look a bit forlorn and neglected, to the point where even the locals weren’t exactly sure whether it was in production or not.
However, since the newly formed Loch Lomond Group took over in early 2014, all that seems to have changed. Along with the shiny new paint job and signage there is now a brand new shop/visitor centre and distillery tours available. Neither is very clearly signed (although plan in place to correct this) from the outside but pass through the unassuming door, marked Distillery Manager, and you find a very tastefully decorated shop with some nice quirky touches (I love the old Victorian cash register!).
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to go on tour during their recent open day (part of the Campbeltown Malts Festival at the end of May), however the visit of a family friend last week gave me the excuse I was looking for to have a nosy round the inside as well as the outside!
One thing that did surprise me going round was how small it was. Don’t get me wrong, the building itself is massive but despite the imposing facade, the actual production equipment is all quite dinky and much more traditional than I remembered. The mash tun is one of the old cast iron ones, with a modest 2.85 tonne mash, and everything is manually operated - not a computer in a sight (nor discreetly tucked away anywhere that I could see). Shannon, our guide, told us that production currently stands at about 300,000 lpa, with plans to increase this to 500,000 lpa by the end of the year. In the past a lot of Glen Scotia’s production was destined for blend, however the plan is to very much to cut back on that side of the business going forward and concentrate on developing Glen Scotia as a Single Malt.
Intrigued by what I had seen in the distillery and shop, I got in touch with Scott Dickson, the Marketing Manager at Loch Lomond Group, who very kindly took some time to discuss their plans. He is very enthusiastic about Glen Scotia, and about the Loch Lomond stable in general, which he describes as ‘hidden gems’; “With Glen Scotia, the previous owners had a really good cask management system in place, under John Petersen, the master blender. We’re building on that and really want to build on the classic Campbeltown style of malt. We've been working with the team at Springbank and see a great opportunity to work together to really promote Campbeltown as the fifth whisky production region.”
Further building on the importance of Campbeltown as a region, LLG are currently renovating the dunnage warehouse on site so more of the spirit can actually be matured in Campbeltown itself. I did ask whether the goal eventually is for it to be 100% Campbeltown matured but, whisky people being a cautious/superstitious bunch, was informed that while they will be maturing more on site, they will also continue to send stock to their other bonded warehouses in Alexandria and Glen Catrine, “just in case something bad happens, it’s better to have it a bit spread out”.
To achieve that typical Campbeltown style, Scott explained, “We produce three types of single malt at Glen Scotia; unpeated, lightly peated and heavily peated. These are married together by our Master Blender, John Petersen, to give the style we are looking for. We are particularly pleased with Victoriana as we feel it is the closest we can get to the original Campbeltown style with that lovely sea spray, salty tang”
Now, I must confess I haven’t actually tried the Victoriana yet, but I intend to rectify this very shortly. Happily it sounds like it will be much easier for me, and everyone else, to get their hands on Glen Scotia, to buy or to try, going forward. They are in the process of finalising their UK and Global distribution with the intention that Glen Scotia should be much more widely available through specialist independent retailers and whisky bars and they have already confirmed their attendance at The Whisky Show in London in October and expect to be participating in many more festivals and shows in the near future. Excellent news - it’ll be great to see another Campbeltown malt represented on the Festival circuit.
Good news for those coming to Campbeltown as a whisky tourist too - in an eminently sensible move Glen Scotia have decided to offer daily tours at times that do not clash with the existing Springbank ones so should you feel so inclined, you’d be able to tour all 3 Campbeltown distilleries in one day! (Glen Scotia tours are at 11.30am and 3pm. Springbank’s, with option of touring Glengyle as well, at 10am and 2pm).
Glen Scotia Tours can be booked by calling +44 (0) 1586 552288 or emailing email@example.com Individual tours and tastings on request.
Thanks to Scott Dickson for the information and photos of the shop (mine didn't really do it justice!) and the new product range.
The ‘before’ shots of the distillery and the product range I got from Google images so apologies if have not credited someone that should be!
The no-age statement (NAS) debate has been rumbling on for quite some time now so I thought I might as well chuck in my tuppence worth. I’m not going to argue the merits of aged vs NAS whiskies, that’s been done to death, but I do want to touch on a couple of points that are my own personal bugbear in this whole debate.
Firstly, to one of the most frequent comments I have seen on blogs and forums which essentially goes along the lines of; ‘I don't have anything against NAS whiskies as such, but why can’t they be a bit more honest and tell us what’s in it, or put an age breakdown on the back label, or something?’. Well, the fact of the matter is that they can’t. And I don’t mean can’t as in, ‘my marketing department don't want me to’ or ‘I can’t be bothered to find out’ (though that may play a part as well!), I mean can’t as in not allowed to. And, unless the regulations change, it doesn't matter how much we whinge and moan and plead, we will still not be able to find out exactly what goes in to the various NAS whiskies.
The regulations I am referring to are of course the Scotch Whisky regulations 2009. Now most of us know that the age on a bottle of whisky must be age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. Less well known though is that the very regulations which are supposed to make things clearer for consumers, specifically prohibit the use of more than one age or vintage in the description, presentation or labelling of the product.* So not only are distillers not allowed to detail the different ages/vintages that make up their NAS on the label or packaging, but if you follow the regulations to the letter, then they are not even allowed to tell us about the different components in their marketing blurb or at a tasting.
As to whether the producers would tell us if they were able to, well that is a whole different question, isn't it!
On the subject of producers, this brings me nicely to my second point which is that I really wish they wouldn't try to pretend that the surge of NAS whiskies is to do with anything other than an increased demand for single malt and a lack of aged stock to fulfil that demand. Some distillers are very candid and admit that this is the case, but others…not so much. One of the terms which really bugs my happiness is ‘flavour led whiskies’ as in, ‘yes, freed from the shackles of the restrictive age statement, we can now create a brand new range of flavour led whiskies to further enhance your whisky tasting experience’. (And no, that’s not a direct quote from anyone, just me paraphrasing what I have heard and read recently) So does that mean that flavour didn't matter at all for your 12 yo or your 18 yo? That as long as the casks were the right age that was all that mattered? Give me a break! And if it’s all about flavour, then why do they continue using age statements on their older, more expensive, products? Would you look at that, I just answered my own question!
At the end of the day though, it doesn't really matter what we think about NAS whiskies, like them or not, it looks like they are here to stay (at least until the next whisky bust). After all, we, the whisky geeks, are but a very, very, small part of the worldwide whisky market - new whisky consumers, that haven't had 20 years of whisky companies telling them that older is better, are going to approach whisky from a totally new perspective where maybe age doesn't matter. For all us traditionalists though, I would propose the following solution - next time you see a NAS whisky, try it. If you like it and think it is good value for money then buy it and enjoy. If you don’t like it or don't think it is good value for money, don't buy it. Simple as that.
*Should you feel so inclined you can find a full copy of the regulations on the SWA website but the relevant bits state;
12 (1) … that any maturation period or age may only be specified in the description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink where it refers to the youngest alcoholic component in the drink…
(3) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes a reference relating to when it was distilled unless-
(a) the reference relates to a single calendar year
(b) all of the whisky in the drink was distilled in that year
I’m excited to say that Whisky Impressions will have a stand at next week’s Springbank Open Day, on Thursday the 21st of May. The Open Day has been on the go for a good few years now but this year it has been expanded to include the town’s other distilleries, Glen Scotia and Glengyle, and has become the Campbeltown Malts Festival. Hopefully the first of many!
I have to say this is a first for me for a couple of reasons - first time I’ve done a whisky festival in my home town and first time I’ve done a whisky festival where I don't actually have any whisky on my stand! Just t-shirts and prints. Hopefully some of you will come along and say hello, despite the lack of whisky though.
I remember one of the very first whisky festivals I went to, just after starting work at Springbank. It was in Vienna and I got talking to some of the guys from the Austrian Whisky Society who had a fantastic collection of old whiskies with them. After the show, when we were all congregating in the hotel bar (as you do), they invited me to join them for a dram of Springbank 1966 Local Barley that they had just opened. I was really touched that this group of people that I had never met before would share such an old, rare, whisky with a young lass just started in the industry.
That’s the great thing about whisky though, and thing I love about whisky festivals - it’s all about sharing. I’ve lost count of the number of times since that moment that strangers, friends, competitors or customers have come up to me at a whisky festival, glass in hand and said, ‘taste this, it’s fantastic!’ I don’t know why it is acceptable to taste a stranger’s whisky but it just is. I mean if someone you barely knew come up and offered you a lick of their ice cream you would think they were a total weirdo but somehow with whisky it’s ok. Don’t question it too much ok, just embrace it.
I just hope this new trend for ‘investing’ in whisky doesn't stop people sharing their whisky with others; not for profit or gain but just for the simple pleasure in sharing a great dram.
The Great Duty Debate Part 2 - or 'How much difference is that 2% cut really going to make?'
So, the big news this month is that the Chancellor has cut Duty on spirits by a whopping 2%. Well whoop de doo. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely a step in the right direction but how much difference is it really going to make?
Assuming that this Duty cut actually gets passed on to the end consumer (which I very much doubt), that equates to a saving of a grand total of 20 pence, including VAT, on every bottle of spirits you buy. For sake of argument, let’s say you buy a bottle of whisky a week. In just over a year, 58 weeks to be precise, you’ll have saved enough money to buy yourself a bottle of Tesco Value blended whisky. Won’t that be a treat?
Seriously though, if saving 20p on a bottle of spirits really makes a difference to your life then you really shouldn't be buying it in the first place!
It wasn't just spirit duty that was cut either, beer duty was also cut by a penny a pint. So if you buy 300 pints, you effectively get one free. I don’t really know how much a pint costs these days, it may not be £3, but you get the idea.
But maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe it’s more about the wider political and economic implications rather than how it affects the end consumer - a tacit agreement by the government that alcohol duty is, in fact, too high? Or a cynical plot to win over voters with a crowd pleasing tax cut in a General Election year? I know which one I’m going for! The SWA is certainly hailing it as a historic move though and a ‘significant boost to a home-grown industry’. When you consider that there have only ever been five spirits duty cuts since the landmark 1823 Excise Act then this duty cut, small as it is, certainly does seem to take on a bit more importance.
It’s when you look at alcohol duty overall though, and not just spirits duty, that you realise just how highly taxed spirits are compared to other alcoholic drinks. I hadn't realised quite how much of a difference there was until I looked it up on the HMRC website. And it’s not just the levels of duty that are different either, it’s also the way the duty is calculated. For example; spirits and beer are taxed according to alcohol strength (litres of pure alcohol) whereas cider and wine are both taxed by volume of product (albeit with lower or higher duty rates for very low or very high alcohol examples of these). The end result is wildly different duty receipts depending on what you are buying. I’ve done another infographic (starting to like these things) to show just how much disparity there is!
For those of you that like concrete figures, the Duty per litre on the examples I have used is;
Spirits at 40%vol £11.06
Beer at 4% vol £0.73
Cider at 5% vol £0.39
Wine at 14% vol £2.73
For the purposes of comparison, if everything was taxed the same as spirits, the figures would be;
Spirits at 40%vol £11.06
Beer at 4% vol £1.10
Cider at 5% vol £1.38
Wine at 14% vol £3.87
Bit of a difference, isn't it? I think it’s time for a radical overhaul of the duty system. I tend to agree with the SWA that the fairest way of doing things is to have one duty rate based on the litres of pure alcohol in the product. After all, alcohol is alcohol, right? Especially in these days of responsible drinking and recommended units. Why should one unit of alcohol consumed as whisky be treated any differently from one of beer or cider or wine? You could always have reduced duty rates for small scale producers (as they already do for beer) to help small or new producers, who don’t have the same economies of scale for their raw materials or production costs, compete on a more level playing field than the big boys. Surely this would do more to stimulate the economy and support home grown industry than a token 2% duty cut, welcome as it is?
It’s a general election year again so that means lots of politicians trying to convince us to vote for them by using catchy soundbites to either a) blow their own trumpet or b) slag of the opposition. One that I have seen quite a lot recently is that 80% of the price of a bottle of whisky is tax. Now, that is some statement! Guaranteed to cause indignation in even the most moderate whisky drinker and, in the wake of the referendum, generate quite a lot of publicity since it affects one of Scotland’s most iconic products.
Now, I don't particularly want to get into a political discussion about the excise rate on spirits, but it did get me thinking. My first thought was, ‘what a load of b*llocks!’. I happen to know that duty on a bottle of whisky is about £8 (depending on the alcohol strength, but more on that later) and when was the last time you were able to buy a bottle of whisky for a tenner?! Or would want to for that matter?!
My second thought was, oh my god, maybe most people in the UK do drink £10 a bottle blend and I’ve turned into such a whisky snob that I just don’t realise it? A quick peruse of the shelves in my local supermarket and browse online though reassures me that that is not the case. Most well-known branded blends appear to be around the £17 - £18 per bottle mark, while the cheapest ‘value’ whisky I could find was £11.50. And that’s where it gets frightening. Why? I hear you ask. Well, for ease of maths, we’ll round the £11.50 up to £12. That £12 includes VAT, so take off £2 for VAT, and we’re left with £9.50. Now take off duty, which on a 70cl bottle at 40% is £7.90 and that leaves us with a grand total of £2.10. Two pound 10p which needs to cover the retailer’s margin, the producer’s margin, the cost of the bottle, label, capsule, outer case, bottling, transport, storage, and…am I forgetting something? Oh yeah, the whisky itself! Now do you see why it is frightening?
Now, contrary to what some politicians and lobbyists would have you believe, Excise Duty in the UK is calculated on the alcohol content of the product, not the value, so if you spend a bit more on per bottle then things get a lot less scary and a lot more encouraging as a much higher proportion of your hard earned cash is actually going towards the whisky itself for your liquid enjoyment rather than to the taxman. If you spend £36 quid for example, then you have a massive £22.10 left once duty and vat have been taken out the equation.
Not having anything better to do on a rainy Thursday afternoon, I did some sums and created this handy infographic (since they seem to be all the rage these days) to illustrate my point. For comparison purposes all costs are based on a 70cl bottle at 40% vol.
The main thing to take away from this? You are perfectly justified in spending more on whisky! The more expensive it is, the higher proportion of your cash you are spending on the actual whisky. I imagine there comes a point though when the tax is pretty negligible so don't go giving yourself carte blanche to spend thousands of pounds per bottle of whisky just on my say so!
The other thing to take away is that while total tax (duty & VAT) does indeed make up over 80% of the cost of the cheapest bottle on the market, it is very misleading to imply that this is the case across the board. It's not. But then, 'The tax you pay on a bottle of whisky depends on the alcohol strength and the price of the bottle and can vary from around 82.5% per bottle to about 20%' isn't quite as catchy a soundbite is it?
Some actual facts, rather than my opinions/conclusions follow. You may or may not wish to read them.
The duty rate on spirits in the UK is currently £28.22 per litre of pure alcohol. For a 70cl bottle, this equates to £7.90 at 40%vol, £9.08 at 46% vol or £11.26 at 57% vol. If you wish to work out how much duty is in your bottle, the calculation is £28.22 x volume of bottle in litres x alcohol percentage expressed as a decimal.
This duty rate applies to all spirits, not just Scotch Whisky. Whether you are drinking Scotch Whisky, English Gin, French Cognac, Russian Vodka or Mexican Tequila, they are all taxed at the same rate. No one spirit is being unfairly targeted.
UK VAT is currently 20%. To calculate the price before VAT you divide by 6.
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.