I love whisky. From my first taste (underage in Blackfriars on Academy Street in Inverness) to the gifts at my wedding (miniatures of Glenkinchie) to the prospect of celebrating the Bairn’s 16th birthday (a bottle of relatively rare Royal Brackla from Nairnshire has been stashed away for 2025), the water of life has played an important role in the best bits of my life so far.
But like many lifelong heroes the whisky industry hides a dark secret. I’m not going so far as to compare Scotch with Stuart Hall or Jimmy Savile (both of whom I interviewed in my previous life as a radio dude - Stuart was theatrical, verbose and knowledgeable about antique clocks while Jim was plain weird) but the actions of the industry cartel are borderline scandalous.
The Scotch Whisky Association - often assumed to be the only voice the industry has - is a club of rich multinationals currently stymieing efforts to combat Scotland’s appalling abuse of alcohol. Minimum pricing was agreed by parliament a year ago but hasn’t been implement thanks to the SWA’s court action. This was dismissed by judges in Scotland but the SWA have talked about taking it further. Meanwhile its members continue to profit while Scots drink themselves into early graves thanks to booze that’s cheaper than water.
Wife-features is on a mission to eradicate the Honest Toun’s slug population. Or at least set up a No Slug Zone within slithering distance of our veg patch. To assist I was asked to bring back the local supermarket’s cheapest liquor. Four cans of bitter for a pound. Great value slug control; dreadfully lax public health controls.
As we prepare to lay malty reservoirs of doom in our garden I’d like to lift the spirits (!) of this discussion to highlight the ethical options available to whisky fans. If like me you want to avoid being complicit in the success of the profit-driven health-spurning SWA and its members you really must avoid the big brands. In the supermarkets it’s impossible to find whiskies that aren’t owned by SWA members, and even the ones that seem independent are owned by multinationals which leaves you with a dilemma over the tax they pay.
So, after painstakingly comparing my bumper book of distillers with the published SWA membership I’m fairly confident these are the labels to look out for if you fancy a Fair Dram, in the same way you’d look for Fair Trade on tea, coffee or chocolate:
Bruichladdich (non-SWA but owned by Paris based Remy Cointreau):
Dalmore and Isle of Jura by Whyte and Mackay (non-SWA but owned by multinational conglomerate United Brewers)