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Celebrating the century

This year the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) celebrates 100 years of promoting, protecting and representing the interests of the Scotch whisky industry around the world
By Rob Allanson
This year the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) celebrates 100 years of promoting, protecting and representing the interests of the Scotch whisky industry around the world. Celebrations began back in June when the Scotland’s National Poet or ‘Makar’ Liz Lochhead recited a poem she had composed especially for the occasion at an event in Edinburgh.

According to Lochhead: “I was delighted to be asked by the SWA to write a poem in a landmark year for them. It was a pleasure to trace the course of whisky-making from the rough to the smooth, and to try to evoke all aromas, the colours and flavours of this subtle drink. Writers and whisky have an even longer history than the SWA. Congratulations to the Association on its first hundred years."

Now an exhibition titled ‘From Grain to Glass’ is being staged in the Main Hall of the Scottish Parliament. It features many images and artefacts from distilleries and archives around the country which have never previously been seen by the public.

An accompanying brochure, along with a comprehensive independent study on the economic impact of Scotch whisky during the last 100 years, has also been produced.

An SWA spokesperson said: “To introduce visitors to how Scotch whisky came to be such a successful, global product, the exhibition goes back to the ‘What is Whisky?’ debate of the early twentieth century. This landmark debate is illustrated by a series of six comic postcards from the time which tell those interested in finding out ‘What is whisky?’ to ask various figures, from a temperance reformer to a policeman. “The exhibition then takes visitors through the various stages of production, drawing on artefacts and materials, from a miniature pot still to artwork and poetry, to give an insight into the mystery of Scotch whisky and the people behind it whose dedication is key to its success.”

The SWA's roots go back to October 1912 when the Wine & Spirit Brand Association was formed against a backdrop of rising taxes to pay for social reforms. Under Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George tax on whisky rose by 30 per cent during 1909 alone, prompting a major drop in sales and wide-spread price cutting. As a result, brand owners held a series of conferences to discuss how best to defend their interests, leading to an agreement in October 1912 to establish the Wine & Spirit Brand Association.

The Wine & Spirit Brand Association changed its name to the Whisky Association in 1917 and to the Scotch Whisky Association in 1940. Today 51 members represent more than 90 per cent of all Scotch whisky production and sales activities, and taxation is still a major preoccupation for the Association and those it represents.

This preoccupation ranges from diplomatic attempts to reduce tariffs in countries such as India with its 150 per cent import duty on Scotch, to a determined domestic battle with the Scottish Government to prevent the implementation of minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol products, arguing that the policy is unlawful in relation to EU trade rules and also penalises responsible drinkers.

As Scotch whisky has come to enjoy greater international cache than ever, it is inevitable that many attempts have been made to pass off counterfeit products as the real thing, and SWA Chief Executive Gavin Hewitt declares: “The SWA has taken legal action against more than 1,000 fake Scotch whiskies and whiskies which masquerade as Scotch. Worldwide we have opposed nearly 3,000 trademarks which try to trade on our reputation, for example by using Scottish place names and imagery and the names of Scottish clans. The prowess of our intellectual property lawyers is second to none.”

Hewitt adds: “The SWA is committed to representing, lobbying and negotiating for our members and the whole of the Scotch whisky industry across the globe. I am proud to have been part of its distinguished his-tory. Our future challenges will be just as acute as they have been in the past.

“I undertake that the Association will be as active on behalf of the industry in the next 100 years and beyond as we have been in our first hundred years.”