The Worldwide Thirst for Single Malt

1 October 2013

In the past century the growth of the single malt whisky category has been meteoric. We can trace the official origins of whisky back to 1494, but the single malt is actually a newcomer to the commercial spirit market. In 1963 Sandy Grant Gordon, great grandson of William Grant, was so proud of Glenfiddich single malt that he made Glenfiddich the first to be actively promoted outside Scotland, thus pioneering the single malt Scotch whisky category. Over the past 50 years single malts have become increasingly popular, creating an exceptionally high demand from collectors and connoisseurs. A question that has been circulating among whisky society is: how is the single malt industry coping with the increased demand from around the globe? 


Firstly let’s look at how Scotland, with a population of just over 5 million, became a powerhouse in the brown spirits category. To do this we must tip our hats to blended Scotch whisky, which popularized Scotland and its national spirit. A blended Scotch whisky uses liquid from several different distilleries, at times even up to 40. The idea for blending whisky began as a means to bring a consistency of flavor to the liquid. Blended Scotch whisky is important as it not only kick-started the Scotch industry, but it is also the backbone of worldwide sales accounting for around 85% of all Scotch whisky sold. It was pioneers such as the Grant Family, John Walker and Andrew Usher, who recognized an opportunity to market the liquid from a single distillery – their own distillery – creating what we know today as single malt Scotch whisky. Arguably, without blends we would not have the single malts available that we see in the market today.

The present market for single malt is currently in double-digit growth with 2012 as the eighth consecutive record-breaking year, where sales hit $6.5 billion.* With a rise of 87% since 2002, these figures are nothing short of impressive. This equates to the Scotch whisky industry making $196 every second for the UK balance of trade. The USA is still the biggest market in the world in terms of monetary value, with a thirst for single malts ever increasing. However, France purchases the most if we are talking quantity. France actually sells more Scotch whisky in a month than they do cognac in an entire year. France and the USA are both very established markets; however emerging markets are starting to demand more single malts. Taiwan, Singapore and China all saw increases of around 8% last year where India increased its consumption by 28%.

Over the past eight years that I have been hosting whisky tastings, I have noticed the average age of my audience coming down at a considerable pace along with an increase in female drinkers. It is an amazing opportunity for myself as well as the single malt brands to capture the minds and hearts of this younger, more confident drinker. With each year, the demand for single malt Scotch whisky is ever increasing. It’s incredible to think that there was a period of time in the 1980s where 21 distilleries closed their doors. Today we can’t keep our single malts on the shelf! Fortunately, Glenfiddich has never closed down and even during the war, the family increased production while other distilleries chose to close. Our 46 warehouses at Dufftown are now full to the gunnels with some of the rarest and most precious stock in Scotland!

*figure taken from Scotch Whisky Association