America’s growing taste for Scotch whisky

A rarer sight than it used to be.
A rarer sight than it used to be.
Image: Reuters/David Moir
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While some parts of the world have cut down on their single malts and Scotch blends, the US can’t seem to get enough. US Scotch whisky imports jumped 8% last year to a record $1.4 billion. It’s the fifth consecutive year in which Americans shipped in more of the Scottish spirit. In all, the US now drinks more than twice the Scotch it did only eight years back. America’s fast-growing taste for Scotch is good news for Scotland, where shipments amount to $7.2 billion annually, and account for nearly 85% of overall food and drink exports. Especially considering that elsewhere, Scotch isn’t selling quite so well. Global sales slowed considerably, and came in flat last year. Asia, in particular, seems to be losing its taste for the spirit. Imports fell in Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea—the world’s third, seventh, and eight largest markets, respectively—and tumbled by nearly 30% in China, where a crackdown on gift-giving amongst government officials has reduced luxury consumption in general and curbed Scotch sales by some 66%, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.


Scotch whisky can only legally use that name if it’s made in Scotland and aged in oak casks for at least three years. The industry is so adamant about distinguishing its own brand that the drink is spelled “whisky” to separate it from other kinds of “whiskey.” There’s even a public register that allows Scotch producer to have their product checked by UK authorities and properly labeled.  Currently, the US is far and away the world’s largest importer. France is a distant second. Singapore, which functions as a waypoint for Asian sales, is an even more distant third. It’s worth noting that while Americans may purchase more Scotch overall, the Americans drink much less of the stuff per capita than the French (who drink 1.9 liters a year on average, compared with 0.2 liters in the US) according to an analysis last summer in the Economist (registration required).