Ordinarily, getting single malt whisky from Scotland to the US looks a bit like this: bottles go in boxes; boxes go on trains, then on boats; boats traverse the Atlantic. It’s a slow, steady process that may take weeks—appropriate for a product which may have spent as much as a quarter-century sitting peacefully in barrels.
But this week, things have been different. That’s because, unusually, distributors have a hard deadline: Whisky that arrives after today will be subject to a 25% tariff, imposed in retaliation by the US after the World Trade Organization found Boeing and Airbus had received billions of dollars in illegal subsidies over the past 15 years. (The EU will have the opportunity to impose its own reciprocal tariffs next year.)
While the tariffs cover a long shopping list of British and European products, the largest product group affected will be single malt whisky: in the year ending Aug. 31, it alone made up 12.4% of all exports to the US from the UK, to a total cost of $1.75 billion, according to trade specialist Panjiva. That’s why, as the New York Times reports, whisky distributors have been forced to turn to more expensive airfreight to bring their stock into the country before the deadline—roughly double the cost of shipping.
Drinks giant Diageo, of Lagavulin and Talisker fame, is the largest affected company, making up 31.2% of shipments to the US in the twelve months ending September, followed by Pernod Ricard and Bacardi. A Diageo spokesperson said that the company was still assessing the impact of the announcement. It’s not yet known whether it will pass the cost on to tipplers or absorb the blow itself.
Still, Johnnie Walker fans can breathe easy: blended whiskies are not affected by the tariffs.