Demand galore for whisky

Have you noticed that the one item in the Christmas shopping basket that's not on discount is the bottle of whisky?

My favourite single malt used to be in line with the others, costing around £25 a bottle three or four years ago. But it's hard to find it now for less than £35.

There's a reason for that. The laws of supply and demand mean that you're competing for that whisky with a bloke called Luis, and with supply constraints, the price is rising.

Luis lives in Recife where he works as a software engineer for Accenture at the city's Porto Digital IT cluster, where he's busy on a Petrobras contract.

He likes to go clubbing in Recife. He treats a dram of Scotch - drenched in cola and on ice - as a badge of his new-found affluence and international outlook.

Vodka makes way

OK, so I'm using a bit of imagination here, as I don't seem to be in the Brazilian port city to check my facts.

But Recife holds a special affection in the Scotch whisky industry, as the city the distillers reckon has the highest per capita consumption in the world.

The hugely successful marketing of Scotch to the burgeoning middle class of emerging economies is not news. But the latest figures suggest it's cruising robustly through these stormy economic times.

Export figures have accelerated in the third quarter of the year, with the first nine months of the year some 23% up on last year. Brazil, thanks to Luis and his nightclubbing chums, is fastest growing - up 50%, to £75m.

But this has thrown up an interesting challenge for the distillers. Despite investing a billion pounds in the past five years, there are now doubts that they have enough stock to supply this rapidly-growing market.

So they can simply make more, right? Well, yes, they can. And there's a shift in distilling capacity away from vodka, gin and other white spirits to free it up for whisky. That means more white spirit is being imported to Britain.

Cask capacity

But it won't be on the market for a while. The law requires whisky has to mature for at least five years, so it's not a tap you can turn to meet demand shifts at short notice.

Another answer is to crack open the casks much sooner than planned. But there's a good reason for not doing that.

The premiumisation of the whisky market means there's a lot more margin to be made out of maturing for much longer.

The latest figures demonstrate the decision to go for premium, as they show value is growing faster than volume.

The industry is looking to continue investing and increasing capacity.

And that closes the case for the defence, in the case of gifting your uncle a down-market supermarket own brand whisky for Christmas.