When thinking about the sorts of places that would be a likely twin for a village in France’s Loire Valley or Burgundy region, it is unlikely that you would ever bring to mind Port Ellen, a fishing village on the island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. Yet, this rugged and tiny port with only an Indian restaurant, a handful of shops and a couple of pubs to its name has a surprisingly strong link to these wealthy French villages with their ancient vineyards since both lend their name to drinks that are eye-wateringly expensive. Wine from places such as Pouilly-sur-Loire or Gevrey-Chambertin can only be purchased by those with very deep pockets, and now Port Ellen has recently joined the ranks of this elite club.
In 2013, Diageo, the drinks conglomerate, released almost 3000 bottles of Port Ellen whisky which was sold with a price tag of $1500 per bottle. This is almost unbelievable considering that the very same whisky was being sold two decades before at just £30 a bottle. To understand the reason for this huge price increase, you need to be aware that Port Ellen whisky is no longer being manufactured, and its scarcity has led to the few remaining bottles being priced so highly.
In 1983, the village’s distillery was closed down due to a drop in the demand for whisky, yet today there is a struggle to keep up to the massive demand. New distilleries are under construction, warehouses are being expanded and barley imports have soared. Indeed, the entire fortune of the Scottish whisky manufacturing industry has been transformed over the last few years.
During the 1950s, there was a change in the rules that controlled the manufacture of whisky and that led to a market glut that resulted in peaking sales and a cut in production. Over time, distilleries (including the one in Port Ellen) were shut down and their stills were sold off for scrap metal. Recently, however, there has been a key change in the fortune of whisky manufacturers. The burgeoning middle classes in Latin America, China and Taiwan see the spirit as an aspirational drink, with a bottle being a clear status symbol in homes worldwide. Now that whisky has taken the top place among the middle classes, Scotland has once more risen to the top and its whisky export market is now worth around £4.3 billion a year. In fact, whisky has become so crucial that it now represents a quarter of the entire UK’s food and drink market overseas.
All of this means that there are key implications for the control of the whisky industry and its dividends, especially if Scotland wins any future vote for independence. At the present time, none of the country’s distillers or manufacturers are willing to comment on any potential issues which could arise from such a decision, however at the present time the EU plays a vital role in negotiating a protective tariff for Scotch whisky and there is a tacit hope that this protection will continue for as long as possible.