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Victor Brierley: It's time to tell the true story of Scotch

It's time for the true story of Scotland's national drink to be told, beginning with the creation of the Scotch Charter, writes Victor Brierley

Published: July 24, 2015

When it comes to marketing, the age old mantra, even in this multi-channelled age, still, is often seen as 'KISS' - Keep it Simple, Stupid.

Truth well told. The big idea, as some of the main players in the 'marketing' industry would still tell us.

When it comes to the world of Scotch whisky, you're talking about a landscape where over the years, multiple owners have emerged, a business with geographical disparity, all over Scotland.

We've got centuries of history, corporate takeovers (almost since day one), wrangling, boom-and-bust periods. Sprinkle over volumes of legislation and combine a mature market with burgeoning new markets, in countries you're not even sure exactly where you are, and you have some tale.

Quite a story.

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Sadly, with Scotch whisky, it's really hard to really give this story a 'beginning', a 'middle' and ascertain what the 'end' might be. A cliffhanger? A whodunnit? A happy ending? Because who's the author? Who gets the 'royalties'?

Because nobody owns our national drink, you could do the rounds, speaking to the great and good in the industry to try and create one, unified story of whisky, which Scotland can tell the world. The Scotch story. Our gift to the world. One, global message, free from the confines of competitive wrangling or mixed messages.

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Well, you could try.

Along the way, you'll find stories of innovation, secrecy, apathy, the noise of several grinding axes, passion, mystery, history, lies, betrayal, sell-out, bankruptcy, disaster, corruption, incredible success, untold riches and the very creation of a fabric which still cloaks the landscape of Scotland, hundreds of years later. No wonder it's a bestseller.

Sadly, this story is really only the preserve of a mystical inner circle; lots of the information is kept under lock and key. It's probably no surprise that over the decades, certain leaders have emerged and run the show how they wanted it run. It's also not really all that surprising that, with a massively complex logistics operation, things don't always run smoothly.

The very creation of modern Scotch malt whisky rules that it needs ageing in oak barrels, and kept in a shed, in Scotland, for three years. This sounds pretty straightforward, till you speak to your accountant about the cash flow situation this creates. Oak trees take several decades to grow to the required size to make a barrel and most whisky in Scotland is a lot older than just three years old. 'Supply chain anomalies', somebody might call it.

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Anyway, we looked at this myriad of complexity, and, because, it's quite handy to look at the public-facing face of Scotch whisky, we've done exactly that. What so the public, the people who buy the stuff, all over the world, what do they reckon?

This really depends on what kind of whisky story you want to tell. At the moment, there are several, most created by companies. Some are incredibly lavish and wrapped up in high production values, with stories of incredible success, for incredible products.

So, surely, these household names, some of which have a bottle in most bars on Planet Earth, they have to be good for the industry? This is surely 'free' whisky marketing, which Scotland can bask in, as their iconic product. Sadly that's what a lot of the powers in charge have broadly accepted. Let the behemoths of a several billion pound industry lead the way.

After all, it’s pretty inconceivable that these industry leaders could maybe be doing it better, or differently. Surely they can't just have their own interests at heart. And they're not ever going to fail, are they?

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As Scotland has seen, in what you might loosely call the 'banking' industry, you can be on top of the world, a major player, in a sector with hundreds of years of history, when, all of a sudden, things change, outside forces exert themselves and we're all left staring at the ruins, wondering, "what the heck happened?".

Sadly, Scotch whisky has done this already, several times. There's a bit of standard 'quotational' chat here about those not learning from history.

This is a very long and roundabout way of telling you why we need the Scotch Charter. Call it a wake-up call. It's maybe just a statement of intent. Call it a call to action. Call it ridiculously simplistic (because several people already have) or call it whisky nirvana.

Call it what you will. I'd like to think though that if you don't have a 'to do' list and if you can't get all your team working to the same brief, you're going to have trouble in the ranks.

Is it maybe time for Scotland to keep Scotch simple?

You can see more details on the petition to create a Scotch Charter here


The Godfather of Scotch, Independent Whisky Writer and Consultant.

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