Brexit gives Scotch whisky makers a headache

The European mainland is hundreds of miles from Arbikie Highland Estate on Scotland's East Coast - but feels as if it could be just on the horizon.

Owned by a family of farmers, the current generation has taken the business one step further and started distilling vodka, gin and now... whisky.

Iain Stirling, Arbikie Highland Estate director, said: "Our family, the Stirling family, have been farming for over 400 years so we're quite good at growing things."

Arbikie produced the first Rye Whisky in Scotland for 100 years, retailing for around £200 a bottle. Now they're four years into casking their first single malt Scotch Whisky.

With Arbikie's Vodka and Gin already successful in Europe, they're hoping their whisky will be the same but the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is concerning.

"That risk is there. We'll try and plan for it as best we can but if you don't know the facts, then you can't really," said Mr Stirling.

Official government figures from the first half of 2018 show the EU remains the biggest regional destination for Scotch - with 39% of the volume of exports.

The Scottish Whisky Association campaigns for the industry and wants to see zero tariffs on exports to the EU and "better" terms in trade deals with other international markets.

The SWA supported Theresa May's original withdrawal deal because it gave important protections on customs and movements and a 21-month transition period.

Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said: "I think I can safely say that it's been difficult, you know. What's been hard in these circumstances is the fact that it has all been very last minute."

But it's not just whisky that's at risk from Brexit - and this is one of the reasons why 62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU. The most recent figures show Scotland's total exports to the EU were worth £14.9bn in 2017. For Scotch Whisky the market growth is there - the hope is that Brexit doesn't stifle it.

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