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Elysian fields?

Published:  23 July, 2008

Look at the 12-month period from March 2005 to March 2006, and the number of nine-litre cases sold in the UK fell by nearly half a million to 8.23 million - a drop of more than 5%. Within these statistics, bottled malts fell by 4.9%, while blends saw a decrease of 5.7%.

Campbell Evans, the Scotch Whisky Association's director of government and consumer affairs, has expressed the need to make people in our domestic market realise that they have a fantastic product on their doorstep'. Very true, but whose responsibility is this? The SWA? Retailers? Producers?

In this special issue devoted to this most glorious of spirits, Jim Murray, one of the best whisky writers in the land, gives us a timely reminder of why to ignore blends is an act of utter snobbery, and how the blended sector (which accounts for nearly 90% of Scotch whisky sales) is an area of true innovation. He also has a few choice words for the SWA and its decision to draw up new definitions for each category of whisky, which some argue are more confusing than ever before.

Tina Gellie had the enviable task of spending a week on the island of Islay, for this year's Islay Festival of Malt and Music, where she visited each distillery and got the latest news from each one, and even got the chance to bottle her own whisky.

Finally, Harpers' Dawn Cran looks at how the spirit is doing in the on-trade, where she finds that bartenders are praising whisky's mixable virtues and changing the once-rock-solid belief that whisky should always be drunk neat, or, if you really must, with a drop of water.

It's good to see whisky producers becoming less precious about how their whiskies should be drunk - tired imagery and dogmatic serving suggestions do not a vibrant category make - but it's clear that more must be done to educate the consumer, otherwise one of our most precious inventions faces an uncertain future.

by Stuart Peskett