When the Scottish Craft Distillers Association (SCDA) launched last summer, its Chairman, Tony Reeman-Clark, remarked that the whole world was now open to the 30 Scottish members. 

Having just returned from representing the group at the Spirit of Scotland Rome Whisky Festival, Tony has just enough time to check on business at home (he is founding director of Strathearn Distillery) before planning to head to a second major industry event in Kentucky. 

The SCDA was invited to the Craft Spirits Conference and Vendor Expo by the President of the American Distilling Institute. More than 1,000 craft distillers, distributors and suppliers will gather next week over four days to swap business cards and share their stories of distilling. 

“Without the group, our routes to export markets would be very, very limited. Together we are taken seriously and can gain a significant market share around the world. Distilleries will open and people will be employed, because of this export route” Tony said. 

The SCDA was established after Tony Reeman-Clark, Dr. Annie Hill from the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University and Teresa Shutter, of the Interface Food & Drink team, were aware of several craft distillers independently pursuing projects funded by Interface F&D at Heriot-Watt and realised how much they could benefit by sharing knowledge. So a Common Interest Group was formed, which led to the SCDA. 

So, just how is the SCDA selling its members and their produce to overseas audiences?

 “It is the complete story of craft and provenance and Scotland. We talk to people about all those aspects. The rise of craft produce is worldwide. It is the Costa/Starbucks effect. You can get a good coffee from Costa anywhere, but people want the story and the experience that local, small independents bring. This is happening in many industries. Scotland itself can be considered a small craft entity - add this charm to our products and it is a winner.”

Whilst predominantly a whisky event, the Spirit of Scotland Rome Whisky Festival gave Tony a chance to promote the gin and vodka products made by members of the SCDA as the organisers had set up a cocktail bar and were looking for a range of spirits.  

A quiet couple of days, as expected at a whisky show, gave Tony the opportunity to talk to other distributors and secure “some very good leads”, the SCDA stand was the “busiest at the show” by day three. “It was a Monday, when bars are typically closed in Rome. We spoke to a lot of people,” he explained. “The organisers were very keen to support Scottish Craft Distillers and our stand was amazing and well prepared.” 

Attending the Rome festival also helped the group focus by having a deadline to prepare for marketing multiple brands under one umbrella.

When asked how it felt to be rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest brands in the drinks industry, Tony’s response gives food for thought: “Interesting. It might be better to ask them how they felt about a young co-operative offering a strong portfolio of interesting top shelf products. They talked to us as equals.”  

For the 10 members of the SCDA represented, being present at such a major event (it is estimated that 3,000 people attended) is an obvious benefit of being part of a co-operative with common interests.

However, there are other benefits to working together. The SCDA has just produced its first co-branded pallet for export to Germany, containing a “dynamic and unique” range of craft spirits.

At the launch, Tony predicted that by having a centralised distribution facility with e-commerce support and shared marketing, as well as a joint lobbying group, export sales could reach over £30 million in three years – sales which otherwise would not happen.

James Withers, Scotland Food & Drink Chief Executive, commented: “The importance of common interest groups should not be underestimated and the collaboration cultivated by the Craft Distillers’ Association is exemplary. The potential of export markets is huge and the industry is on track to reach the target value of £7.1bn by 2017.

“Scotland offers strong provenance credentials and is known for producing innovative and quality products, established as well as emerging brands can capitalise on this reputation as a Land of Food and Drink. The work of the group is successfully generating and nurturing considerable opportunities in overseas markets and going from strength to strength.”


Read Helen Pratt, Interface Food & Drink Project Manager’s blog about the rise of this “extraordinary group” and other developments in Scotland’s brewing and distilling industries.