New ‘Free The Spirit’ Campaign Launched To Cut UK Bourbon Tariffs

By Gary Carter / July 11, 2021

Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Brown-Forman have joined with The Bourbon Alliance – distillers, restaurants and pubs, retailers, wholesalers, and US whiskey fans – to urge the British government to remove the 25 percent tariff on imported US whiskey caused by a trade dispute over steel.

The Bourbon Alliance is a coalition of industry stakeholders whose livelihoods depend on being able to import US whiskey into the UK. Supporters of the campaign to #FreeTheSpirit include household names as well as independent distillers, hospitality venues across the UK, retailers, distributors, festival organizers, and bourbon fans.

The UK and the US have been able to trade their whiskies tariff free across the Atlantic for more than a quarter of a century. In recent years, the market for bourbon and whiskey imported from the United States has grown exponentially, with the UK becoming the US’ largest export market for these products, a demand that saw the UK import more than £121 million worth of US bourbon and whiskey in 2017.

Free The Spirit Campaign

Free The Spirit Campaign (image via The Bourbon Alliance)

It was in 2018 when a controversial 25 percent steel “rebalancing tariff” was imposed by the EU on all imported bourbon and other whiskey from the US.

The UK has chosen to maintain these tariffs since leaving the EU, resulting in UK imports of bourbon dropping by 53 percent since June of 2018. Given the size of the market for US bourbon and whiskey, British consumers paid upwards of 23 percent of the total EU whiskey tariffs (on €203m of US exports) and it continues in the ongoing UK-US dispute over steel.

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Back in May, the UK Government launched a public consultation into the tariff, stating it was “looking at ensuring any future tariffs applied are shaped to UK interests.”

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said, “We want to de-escalate these disputes so we can move forward and work closely with the US on issues like WTO reform and tackling unfair trade practices by non-market economies.”

The Free The Spirit campaign has support from more than 40 Bourbon brands, hospitality venues, retailers and trade associations, including Jim Beam, Brown-Forman, Maker’s Mark, The Wine and Spirits Trade Association, The British Bourbon Society, Wilderness Trail Distillery, and Never Say Die Bourbon.

Founder of the Bourbon Alliance and director of Never Say Die Bourbon, Martha Dalton, said in a prepared statement the Free The Spirit Campaign “has already galvanized the hospitality industry and shown the united call for the government to cut the tariff.”

As the hospitality industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic in the UK, venues have been closed for the majority of the year with 10,000 licensed premises shutting their doors for good.

On top of this, Dalton said, UK consumers have paid more than £55 million in tariffs on imported American whiskies.

“This has hit investment in the hospitality industry when it needs it most, deterred new customers from exploring the world of bourbon and prevented fans of quality American whiskey and bourbon from enjoying their favorite drinks, with a devastating knock-on effect to the revenue of venues, retailers, and wholesalers across our industry.”