FOR centuries, it has been crafted and perfected, becoming one of the most popular drinks in the world.

But, according to an official Scottish Government document, the only difference between a single malt whisky and any other drink is good PR. 

The paper, which was first published in November to accompany a consultation on curbing alcohol advertising, states that “without branding and other marketing strategies, alcohol products in each beverage sub-sector are essentially variations of the same thing.”

READ MORE: OPINION: Comparing whisky to alcopops is just bonkers

That claim has left whisky experts livid.

“A Macallan 50-year-old is not the same as a blended Tesco value whisky," the consultant and writer Blair Bowman told The Herald.

"In one sentence, they’ve dismissed centuries of heritage and culture. Scotch whisky is our biggest food and drink export. It’s madness.

“They don’t even understand the product. What makes it so special is the uniqueness of every single diverse style of distillery.

"And they’ve just said, ‘oh, they’re all the same, so you might as well just put them in the same bottle’.”

The Herald:

According to the most recent figures produced by the Scotch Whisky Association, exports grew to £4.51bn during 2021, up by 19 per cent. 

The more than 140 distilleries in Scotland export around 22 bottles every second.

The US is by far the biggest market, buying around £790 million of Scotch in 2021, but there has been huge growth in Asia and Latin America.

Increasing numbers of drinkers in India, Brazil, and China are also clamouring for a dram.

READ MORE: Scotch whisky facing headwinds as hopes rise over Indian market

“The reason it has this global reputation is because of the quality control measures we have in place to protect scotch whisky," Mr Bowman said. 

"And yes, part of it is marketing," he added. "But if whisky didn’t taste as good as it tastes, people wouldn’t buy it.

“It really is as simple as that. Whisky is not vodka. It is profoundly unique and special. I think the Scottish Government has lost sight of that.”

The government’s consultation on alcohol marketing is being led by public health minister Maree Todd, whose Caithness, Sutherland and Ross constituency is home to a large number of distilleries. 

The Herald:

It makes a number of suggestions including banning adverts on billboards and phasing booze firms out of sports sponsorship and events like festivals.

It also suggests retailers could need to restrict the promotion of alcohol in-store, possibly even needing it to be kept under the counter.

But a ban on the use of alcohol brand logos on merchandise could potentially force distilleries to close their gift shops.

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Is Scotch whisky industry in a new golden age?

Kintyre’s Beinn an Tuirc Distillers tweeted: “Like many many distilleries, we are embedded into the rural community. If the Scottish Government think a total ban on alcohol advertising is the way to go, then hello to the next Highland Clearances.”

Brewers have also criticised the claim made in the consultation document, rejecting the insinuation that all beers made in Scotland are the same.

A spokesperson for BrewDog told The Herald: “We can assure the Scottish Government our lovingly brewed world-class craft beer made with almost 40 times more hops than the average lager, unique flavours and no preservatives, chemicals or cheap substitutes is very, very different to your average pint of cheap watery industrialised beer.”

Scottish Conservative South Scotland MSP Craig Hoy said: “This is an extraordinary admission from the SNP government.

"It displays a lack of knowledge about the process behind the making of many iconic scotch whisky products and suggests that this consultation has not been carefully considered.

“The SNP needs to stop talking down Scottish industries and Scottish exports like Scotch whisky.

“SNP-Green ministers need to urgently clarify what they mean by this and reassure the whisky industry and others that they recognise the care and skill that goes into some of our most-loved products.

“The Scotch whisky industry has a massive positive economic effect on many communities and Scottish ministers cannot simply ignore this.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the consultation was at an early stage: “Alcohol-related harm is one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland.

"An average of 700 people are hospitalised and 24 people die each week from illnesses caused by drinking alcohol.

“The public health minister will be meeting key stakeholders, including the alcohol and advertising industries during the consultation period.

"This is a first wide-ranging consultation on this issue, and any proposals we take forward into legislation are subject to the consultation responses. We are not introducing legislation at this stage.”