Alcohol ads ban threat to island distilleries

By Michael Russell

There would be a “dramatic impact” on sales if the Scottish Government press ahead with a ban on alcohol advertising, the managing director of the Isle of Harris Distillery said this week.

Anne O’lone, Visitor Centre manager at Torabhaig Distillery
Photograph: Willie Urquhart

Simon Erlanger was the latest voice to speak out within the industry on the effects of a proposed Scottish Government ban on certain kinds of alcohol advertising, including outdoors, sponsorship, and the promotion of alcohol in-store.

As part of ongoing consultation on the issue, health minister Maree Todd has stated that new restrictions are necessary to address Scotland’s “deep, longstanding and troubled relationship” with alcohol.

“Alcohol-related harm is one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland,” she added. But Mr Erlanger told the Free Press that if the Tarbert-based Isle of Harris Distillery, which includes a visitor centre, was unable to display their spirits – gin and single malt whisky – it would hammer sales.

He added: “In the worst case, we would simply close the shop as it would be unaffordable to operate. Its 12 jobs would obviously be lost in that case, a major impact in this small island. There would also be a wider impact on the brand: the visitor centre is there to provide visitors with a sense of who we are and how we do things, so that they can take our story back home and spread the word to friends and family. Much of this benefit would be lost under the proposals, impacting our wider sales.

“We are also engaged in supporting community events, such as local music festivals and the village football club. Withdrawing from this kind of activity is likely to make these events less viable, with associated impact on the cultural life of the island.”

Edinburgh-based Mr Erlanger, formerly a commercial director of Glenmorangie, said there was “no evidence in these proposals that the suggested actions” will achieve the aim of reducing alcohol related harm.

He added: “Our industry is scrupulous in acting responsibly in all aspects of marketing. It is essential that we can tell our stories to our consumers. We need to be able to explain what makes us different from all the other craft gins and whiskies. Without this, I believe that many producers, most of which support local communities like we do, will go to the wall because they are unable to market their products.”

Last week, opposition to the restrictions was also voiced within the Torabhaig Distillery in Sleat, south Skye.

Anne O’Lone, visitor centre manager, said: “I am particularly concerned about the proposed restrictions on the sale of branded items. Branded clothing, glassware and other items go hand-in-hand with the sales of the whisky itself and are the basic souvenirs our visitors take home to remember the experience they enjoyed during their visit.

“The spend on branded items from our overseas visitors, particularly right now when the pound is so weak, and when you think of the fact there are over 140 distilleries in Scotland, is quite significant. Not to mention the effect on all our suppliers both local and across Scotland who employ teams of people to produce and brand these items for us.”