Asia takes over the world’s whisky market

If you’re invited to a wedding in Southern China you might see couples perform an unexpected ritual. First their hands are bound together, then the pair imbibe a shared toast of Scotch whisky. Its an invariably heart-warming symbol of shared destiny that might seem to hark back to ancient Celtic lore.

In fact, according to Chivas Brothers CEO Jean-Etienne Gourgues, the whole thing is a modern invention by his firm’s parent company, French drinks giant Pernod Ricard SA — promoted to wedding planners who work with the brand to boost its premium booze to couples who’d otherwise toast with Chinese Maotai (a fiery distillation of fermented sorghum).

The yearslong efforts by Pernod, Diageo and other major whiskey producers to get Asian drinkers to spend more on their premium spirits are finally paying off, just as sales in established markets in the U.S. and Europe show signs of slowing. Last year, the Asia-Pacific region overtook the European Union to become the biggest buyer in the £6 billion ($7.5 billion) Scotch whisky export market, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. In the first half of this year, six of the 10 largest export destinations for the vaunted spirit, which must be distilled in Scotland following specific processes to have a “Scotch” designation, were in Asia.

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