Should you be scanning the illustration on the cover of this issue looking for your home country, please don’t take offence if it is not there. It’s a cartoon and does not, therefore, bear excessive geographical examination. Similarly, don’t take offence if the caricature is unjust – that’s the whole point of caricatures. Notwithstanding the obvious shortcomings of sweeping generalisations, many people in the industry have surprisingly defined ideas regarding the national characteristics of whisky enthusiasts in different countries. We decided this was worthy of exploration.The appreciation of whisky in splendid isolation removes the sense of global perspective. Personally, that is one of the reasons I enjoy whisky. In much the same way that some find a round of golf clears the mind or that the best way to forget the stresses and strains of the outside world is to indulge in the current vogue for yoga, whisky allows you to relax. It’s almost an irrelevance how you unwind as long as you do. I dare say the alcohol plays some part in this.The point of the cover, and the piece it reflects, is that it is easy to get immersed in your own way of doing things. Such as drinking whisky. But it is worth taking a step back and looking at the world as a whole.Okay, so by now most people know that the biggest markets in the world for Scotch are Spain and France. But if you look at figures for just bottled malt (as opposed to bulk malt for vatting and blending purposes), the UK is still top. And by some way. France is second and the USA third. After that it is a long, long way to fourth place with Spain a nose in front of Germany. Italy is sixth with twice the sales of seventh place Canada. Sweden is in eighth (with half the sales of Canada), narrowly ahead of the Netherlands in ninth and Japan in tenth. Of course, a snapshot like that doesn’t tell you the whole story. You need per capita consumption and information on the value of the market (one of the top 10 markets is entirely dominated by a malt bottled at the tender age of five) and demographic details to see the entire picture. As I am reliably informed, size isn’t everything. Were we to put together a top 10 of whisky enthusiasts by nationality, now that would be interesting.When visiting the whisky festivals on Islay and Speyside you can get a good handle on the countries with the keenest whisky lovers. There are always Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch and Belgians around. One doesn’t tend to see too many French or Italian visitors. Seldom does a whisky event pass by without some Americans, Canadians and Japanese having made a pilgrimage. Admittedly, it is harder for those from farther afield to get to the festivals. But it really is worth the effort, wherever you are from. Whisky is at heart an agricultural product. Read Martine Nouet’s piece about matching Islay malts to the finest Islay produce (pages 56 to 58). To understand whisky, its importance to the community, its context you really, really have to get out there to see, touch and smell its provenance. I now look forward to an exposé of my gross hypocrisy having not made it to Speyside this May … The world is getting smaller. If you haven’t visited the distilleries you are missing out. At the time of writing, Glendronach is restarting production. Once again, good news for all lovers of whisky. I read a barbed comment on one of the internet bulletin boards: “The aim of Whisky Magazine is to help the Scottish whisky industry, and not to facilitate an interesting debate or try to make the products better.” I take this as a positive comment. Despite the intriguing conspiracy theory that the industry and Whisky Magazine are in collusion to dupe whisky consumers the world over, I am proud to say that Whisky Magazine does try to help the whisky industry, and the whiskey industry and the bourbon industry. Of course, those industries are very powerful and prospered for many years without the help of the magazine, thank you very much. But without the mutual trust and respect of the industry we cannot have meaningful debate. It is only very recently that the distillers have opened up. No-one wants a return to the dark ages. Whisky Magazine has the ear of the industry and is the mouthpiece of the consumer. Without both sides, it isn’t much of a debate.
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