Scotch whisky exports rose nearly 8 per cent to a record £4.7bn in 2018, pushed by strong growth in the US and surging demand in India and Mexico.
The buoyant performance will fuel industry confidence as concerns grow that Brexit could disrupt sales to the EU.
Data released on Tuesday by the Scotch Whisky Association showed the value of exports was up 7.8 per cent in nominal terms in 2018, slightly below 2017, when they grew 9 per cent to £4.36bn. The volume of exports in 2018 rose 3.6 per cent to the equivalent of 1.28bn 70cl bottles.
Karen Betts, SWA chief executive, said the data showed the strength of Scotch, which had “continued to grow despite the challenges posed by Brexit and by tensions in the global trading system”.
Confidence in global demand for Scotch has prompted investment in new distilleries. More than a dozen opened in the past half decade and about 20 more are planned or under construction.
Exports to the US, the world’s largest single market for Scotch, were up 13 per cent at £1.04bn in 2018. Exports to Singapore, from where a large proportion of whisky is transhipped to China and south-east Asia, were up 10 per cent to £320m, while exports to India surged 34 per cent to £139m, and to Mexico by 19 per cent to £132m.
Liam Fox, UK trade secretary, welcomed Tuesday’s data, and said it was “telling” that exports to non-EU markets had grown much faster than those to the bloc.
However, many in the whisky industry are concerned about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit, which could disrupt sales to vital EU markets. France, the second-biggest national market for Scotch, alone accounted for £442m of exports last year.
“It is important to our industry, as to many others, that the UK does not leave the EU without a deal at the end of March,” Ms Betts said.
“We are urging the government and Parliamentarians to work together constructively and pragmatically to ensure that an agreement is reached as quickly as possible,” she said.
The data underscored the growing importance of single malts to the whisky sector, with exports expanding 11.3 per cent to £1.3bn.
Rupert Patrick, chief executive of online whisky market WhiskyInvestDirect, said the data showed consumption was shifting to higher priced spirits and demonstrated the particular appeal of Scotch’s long barrel maturation process.
“The world’s drinkers are increasingly well-informed and discerning, and they’re happy to pay more for fine whisky aged for longer,” Mr Patrick said.
Diageo, the world’s largest drinks group, said on Tuesday that it had applied for planning permission to open a whisky visitor centre in central Edinburgh, the centrepiece of a £150m investment in Scotch whisky tourism.
The company, which is also investing £35m to reopen two former distilleries, said it wanted the Edinburgh site to become known “not only as one of the greatest whisky attractions of the world, but one of the greatest brand attractions in any industry”.