Four years after a crate of Scotch whisky was discovered in the Antarctic hut of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the parcel was finally thawed and opened this past summer. The well-preserved liquid in the Mackinlay’s Scotch bottles, stored sometime during Schackleton’s 1907 expedition, was retrieved not for drinking, but for the scientific pursuit of replicating the brew. Once the samples were extracted through the corks, the 11 bottles were to be returned to their home, under the floorboards of the Antarctic shack.
The respect applied to this discovery reflects the centuries of tradition that protect the ancient flavors of Scotch single malts. Even as old distilleries are taken over by new conglomerates, recipes and processes are preserved with reverence, and the few family-owned distilleries take particular pride in maintaining their historical integrity.
Through depressions and economic surges, war and peacetime, the Scotch whisky business formula has demonstrated a steady resilience. This most recent bout of financial turmoil is no different. NPR reported recently that the Scotch whisky industry remains one of the strongest in the U.K., where it accounts for nearly a quarter of its food and beverage exports.
Glengoyne Distillery’s manager was interviewed for the story, and he raised an interesting point. Stating that nothing much has changed in Glengoyne’s process and craft for the past 150 years, the manager elaborated: “A fear of change is quite a healthy thing in distilling, and it’s something that keeps accountants at bay. Because everyone would like to cut costs and speed up processes and things like that, and it’s just the sort of industry that that’s too scary a thing to do.”
Glengoyne’s profits were up 45 percent last year, and they were up 25 percent when this report aired on NPR. Demand for Scotch whisky is rising around the world, which helps the industry’s cause, but it’s quite possible that a dedication to doing what is right for flavor and quality, rather than the bottom line, is what has preserved this industry.
If only all businesses could operate with such luxurious abandon, laughing at accountants’ demands, but that is obviously not the way of the world. Still, it’s possible to retain some of the original passion that brought you to the industry in which we all work. I’ve heard tale of many companies whose focus on customer service is helping them to build business, or at least remain steady in these tough times. These are the companies who have not lost sight of their craft. Remember what process helped get you here, and celebrate that tradition.