Is the Scotch Industry in Decline? It’s Complicated.

Figures released by the Scotch Whisky Association for 2023 paint an unclear picture of global demand for Scotch

The 4th-floor​ bar at the Conduit in London, showcasing a lot of Scotch. The market for Scotch declined slightly in 2023.
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Much like the tequila industry, newly released numbers suggest the global Scotch market is going through a slight decline. But dig deeper into the latest stats and you’ll see arguments that could suggest the whisky world is thriving, adjusting or, admittedly, doing worse than expected.

Per the Scotch Whisky Association, the total value of Scotch exports topped $7.046 billion in 2023, with the equivalent of 1.35 billion 700ml bottles being exported. Nice numbers, but also a decline from 2022 exports in value and volume (9.5% and 19% decrease, respectively).

The trade group put a positive spin on those figures, noting that 2022 was a “bumper” post-pandemic year and 2023 represented a “more normalized depiction of the current state of global exports.” Admittedly, last year’s numbers represent a very nice amount of growth from pre-pandemic levels: the value of exports was up 14% from 2019 and volume increased by 3% in the same period.

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The SWA also used the numbers (which, reminder, they claim are good!) to demand more concrete government support. “We know that the Scotch Whisky industry is remarkably resilient as we look at these numbers against the backdrop of rising costs for consumers and businesses, but the figures are a reminder once again that the Scotch Whisky success story cannot be taken for granted,” says Mark Kent, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association. “We need to see more tangible support from government both at home and in our priority markets in order to continue to grow our export numbers, and the resultant investment, employment and economic benefits that come with that.”

To accomplish that, the association suggested a cut to the spirits duty in the spring budget, along with “[doing] away with any notion of restricting the marketing of Scotch Whisky in Scotland.”

If there’s one area for celebration, it’s the thriving Asia-Pacific market for Scotch. Singapore, Taiwan and China all saw modest to huge market gains by value, driven by demand for single malts. As well, the SWA might have a point about tariffs; India’s significant year-to-year drop (-24%) in volume probably has a lot to do with that country’s 150% tariff on Scotch imports. On the other hand, the U.S. — which is in the midst of a five-year removal of tariffs on Scotch — still saw a 7% fall in value and volume compared to 2022.

If the SWA (and/or the spirits industry in general) is labeling 2023 as a post-pandemic course correction, the numbers for 2024 should reveal what people are truly drinking…or not.


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