Barley is one of Scotch Whisky's raw materials

History of SWA

The Scotch Whisky Association's roots go back to October 1912 when the Wine & Spirit Brand Association was formed. It would ultimately become the SWA as it is known today. 

The Association was created against a backdrop of rising taxes to pay for social reforms. Under Chancellor Lloyd George tax on whisky rose by 30% in 1909 alone, prompting a severe fall in sales and widespread price cuttings. As a result, brand owners held a series of conferences to discuss how to protect the sector. This led to a major gathering in London on 3 October 1912 - the day it was agreed to set-up the Wine & Sprit Brand Association.

The war years

War dominated the Association's early history. During World War I, the new body opposed Lloyd George's threat of prohibition and state control of the trade.

Such debates made it clear a strong body focused on whisky alone was needed and, in 1917, the organisation changed its name to the Whisky Association, covering both Scottish and Irish producers.

World War II then re-shaped the industry's history. The fundamental issue was whether whisky could be made at a time of rationing. The government argued that as the country was bankrupt and needed to earn more currency overseas, cereals would only be released if companies agreed to export more.

At the time, one Minister said: "…the country needs food, dollars mean food, and whisky means dollars."

The Scotch Whisky Association, as it was renamed in 1942, spent the best part of the next decade arguing it was in the national interest to allow distillers to use scarce cereals.

The SWA won the argument.

Annual export targets were agreed with the government but state control was avoided. Whisky was made again and companies increasingly looked overseas.  Much of the focus was on better access to the Americas and a resumption of exports to war hit markets.

Global markets

The SWA's work evolved into global campaigning on trade barriers, particularly after the 1970s slump. By then, the SWA's focus was on the Common Market and unfair taxation in the likes of France. In time, similar work to remove trade barriers in Greece, Spain and Poland would pay equal dividends.

The SWA established itself as a pioneer of using GATT rules with its work on tax in Japan, South Korea and Chile in the 1980s and 1990s. This did much to put into practice the principle that imported and domestic spirits should be taxed and treated in a similar way.

Much of the last 20 years has been spent making sure those same principles are also respected in markets such as India. 

Legal Protection

The SWA's legal work has remained consistent over time - protecting Scotch from unfair competition.  

Those handling the early protection of Scotch were far-sighted in recognising that threat and often broke new legal ground. As a result of their early work, no court in any country has ever ruled that "Scotch Whisky" is generic.

Over the years, the SWA has taken legal action against over 1,000 brands and opposed nearly 3,000 trademarks worldwide.

The first definition of Scotch in UK law was secured by 1933, with a dedicated Scotch Whisky Act in 1988 and new Scotch Whisky Regulations in 2009. It took 97 of the SWA's 100 years but there are now comprehensive rules in place.

Tax and Politics

The SWA remains a tenacious campaigner on excise duty, as it has been from day one.  In 2008, a tax rise was reduced by 4% in less than 24 hours. Ken Clarke as Chancellor cut duty twice in a row and spirits duty has been frozen in 15 of the last 30 years.  

In 2015, the SWA hailed the Coalition Government's decision to cut excise duty on spirits by 2% in the March 2015 Budget as historic. This move is fair to consumers and a significant boost to a home-grown industry. George Osborne's announcement marked the first cut in spirits duty in almost 20 years and is only the fourth time that excise on whisky has fallen in a century.

All of this has only been possible through a concerted effort across Westminster and Whitehall over many years.

Alcohol and Society

The debate on alcohol's place in society is not new. The Association has promoted social resonsibility for decades.

It has provided financial support for alcohol research and funding to train GPs and nurses on alcohol issues. An international marketing code has also been introduced.

In 2013, the association established the Scotch Whisky Action Fund to tackle alcohol-related harm as an extension of its commitment to addressing misuse and promoting responsible drinking.

The next 100 years

The SWA is committed to protecting, promoting and representing the Scotch Whisky industry across the globe for the next 100 years and beyond.