SCOTCH whisky giant Diageo has underlined the strong growth potential for its brands in China as it reported a four per cent hike in net sales to £6.5 billion in the six months ended December 31.

However, the Johnnie Walker maker cited the effects of the pound’s recent recovery since its post-Brexit vote collapse, which is expected to hit sales by around £460 million for the full year.

Diageo, which has this week been embroiled in a row over the rules enshrining how whisky is made, reported a “consistent performance” for the half year.

John Kennedy, the company’s president for Europe, Russia, Turkey and India, said Diageo had achieved growth in all of its global trading regions around the world over the period.

Scotch sales were up three per cent, including seven per cent growth on Johnnie Walker. Mr Kennedy said the firm expects “mid-single digit” percentage growth from its whisky brands to continue. “We’re getting a sense of momentum across many parts of the business,” he said. “We’ve managed to [increase operating] profit by seven per cent, well ahead of sales growth, while reinvesting in marketing significantly.”

Diageo reported net sales growth of seven per cent in Asia Pacific, amid sales increases on whisky and white spirits in China. Luxury spirits producers struggled in China in the aftermath of the anti-extravagance measures being introduced by the state in 2013, but have have seen an upturn in fortunes more recently. Mr Kennedy said Diageo was seeing the fruits of investment to build its brands and distribution routes in the country, while benefitting from whisky becoming affordable to more people.

Mr Kennedy said: “What we’re pleased with is that, as the Chinese economy shifts more to domestic consumption, there should be sustainable growth opportunity there. I think the growth rate we had in the first half will slow a bit, but we’d expect strong double-digit [percentage] growth there [and] very good margins.”

Diageo said net sales in Europe were up more than four per cent, including growth of seven per cent in the UK , helped by the gin revival. Mr Kennedy said Diageo’s priority on Brexit is to ensure it can access the EU market as freely as possible after the UK’s exit.

Diageo hit the headlines yesterday when it emerged it had drafted up proposals for the development of innovative whisky products. These include suggestions for Scotch whisky to be aged and finished in Tequila casks, and for a new type of flavoured or lower alcohol whisky to be introduced.

Asked whether it was actively seeking to change the rules which govern whisky is made, which are enshrined by law, Mr Kennedy replied that “nobody is more committed than Diageo to making sure the Scotch whisky category maintains its integrity”. He said it is working with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) on how to “strike the balance between tradition and future innovation, to make sure consumers get the products that they want”.

He declined to respond directly when asked if Diageo has held specific talks with the SWA about changing the rules on Scotch whisky making. On concern raised by traditionalists over the idea of a lower alcohol whisky being introduced, he noted: “I agree. If it doesn’t have a certain ABV it is not actually Scotch whisky. That is pretty clear.”