Scotch Whisky Association: Pro's & Con's?

The Scotch Whisky Association


The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) have been in the media quite a bit over the past few years. I have written blog posts in support of people and companies wanting change from the SWA. So, do we really know what the SWA is, and what it stands for? Is the press they’ve received over the past few years justified?


In one format or another the SWA has been around for over a hundred years now, originally founded in October 1912 as the Wine & Spirit Brand Association. Their mandate was to help protect the industry after serious falls in sales and mass price cutting, due in part to increased pressured from rising taxes to cover the cost of social reforms (does this sound familiar?)

The First World War dominated the early years of the Association, with them fighting Lloyd George’s plans for prohibition and state control of the industry. It was during this period that the Association decided that a body solely focused on the whisky industry was needed.

The Whisky Association as it was known now, was a body that was focused on the issues that concerned whisky production by Irish and Scottish producers. They were renamed in 1942 becoming the Scotch Whisky Association, dealing with the aftermath of the Second World War had on the industry. The SWA had to fight with the government that whisky production should be allowed, to help bring much needed revenue so the UK could trade with its allies. This was an argument that the SWA won and whisky production was resumed with the condition that the majority of production was for export.


The SWA has been instrumental in defining what scotch whisky is in the eyes of the law, with the first definition of scotch in UK being made in 1933 with a dedicated Scotch Whisky Act coming into being in 1988, followed by new regulations in 2009.



Now, I personally had to research most of the above, and my first real encounter with the SWA was just last year. Unfortunately, this was linked to a negative side of media coverage, after the SWA had taken issue with the packaging for an expression that Compass Box Whisky had released.

Media Coverage

I am a fan of Compass Box and do have to hold my hand up and say I did not think the SWA was justified. As a blogger I did write about the issue and my coverage was biased in favour of Compass Box Whisky, as if a company wants to give the consumer more information than they legally need to (regarding age statements), what harm can it do?

I thought it was unreasonable when the SWA told them they had to change it because it was breaking rules and regulations that were in place. This wasn’t the first time they had clashed over the rules and regulations, having done so some years earlier about the maturation process of an expression.

So, many pro's for SWA, but they have had quite a bit of bad publicity in regards to issues with rules and regulations, and I dearly hope it doesn't mask the good that they have done over the years.


With about 90% of Scotch whisky production exported to around 200 countries globally, the trade agreements and protection of copyright is a major consideration for Scottish distilleries, as the SWA has fought and won hundreds of copyright infringement cases for the industry. This is key area that the SWA does a huge amount of good for the industry. Take for instance, the recently signed agreement between the SWA and the IBRAC (a private group that represents the Cachaça spirit industry from Brazil) for mutual cooperation. This covers things like the protection of copyrights and promotion of each others products in the market, with the export market being important to both spirits (Brazil had around £56 million of Scotch whisky imported in 2015). This level of commitment to work with other bodies to improve sales in foreign markets is important and will be more so post Brexit.

The work of SWA is not just international promotion, as they work hard to move the industry forward. The most recent instance of this is a partnership between the SWA and the SCDA (Scottish Craft Distillers Association), with both parties signing a Memorandum of Understanding.




This might not sound like much but it could make a huge difference to the industry. With the intention being that the more established distilleries can help the recently established craft distilleries, in areas like brand marketing and accessing overseas markets. In return the small craft distilleries can help push forward with fresh approaches to the industry and innovative ideas that can be shared across the industry, with the long term goal of enhancing and protecting the Scotch Whisky industry.

Industry Leadership 

On the 2nd of March 2017, Karen Betts joined the SWA as the first female Chief Executive in its 105 year history, which is a really positive news story, but where was the media coverage? For me, when compared to the coverage for the Compass Box transparency argument, it’s none existent. We are quick as consumers to comment and demand change when we feel we are being hard done by, but we very rarely comment or praise an industry body when they do something that is for our benefit.

With this in mind I think the SWA is a body that the industry needs, it does so much good protecting the industry and creates so many opportunities globally. I will stand by my comments made about the transparency argument. We need constructive dialogue when issues like this arise, but we definitely need to make more effort to give praise where it’s due.




Craig Watson


All images are courtesy of the The Scotch Whisky Association

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