Diageo’s ban on photography: Not the full picture?

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author. It is to be taken at the discretion of the reader.

During my tour of the Islay distilleries, I mentioned in my posts on Caol Ila and Lagavulin that the distilleries had a “No Photography Allowed” rule in place which prohibited the taking of photos within the inner sanctums of both distilleries. I was naturally puzzled and somewhat curious as to what the rationale was behind this measure.

The stillhouse at Caol Ila. When you consider how spectacular the view is, it's a real shame that no pictures are allowed.
The stillhouse at Caol Ila. When you consider how spectacular the view is, it’s a real shame that no pictures are allowed.
The mash tuns at Lagavulin.
The washbacks at Lagavulin.

Just for the record, the pictures above were not taken by me. I found them by performing a simple image search on Google. Before I delve deeper into the issue, I’d like to expand further on the steps I took to find out the rationale behind the decision to ban photography within the distillery.

I figured that the best way to find out the reason why would be to contact the parent company itself, Diageo. The Diageo website is quite well presented and easy to navigate, which made it simple for me to find the necessary page. I submitted my query via their “Contact Us” page and hoped to receive a reply in the near future. I knew that there was a chance that my query would not even be entertained and was somewhat prepared for that possibility.

I submitted my query on the 2nd of February and was surprised to receive a reply from one of Diageo’s representatives a mere 2 days later. However, the reply stated that they were unsure of the rationale and that it needed to be checked with the distillery sources. They assured me that I would receive a speedy response to my query. I was satisfied with the reply and waited for their response.

34 days after their initial reply, during which I resent my query via the website on the 9th of March, I received a reply on the following day. I have included the reply below:

Diageo's reply. I have removed the contact's names to protect their privacy.
Diageo’s reply. I have removed the contact’s names to protect their privacy.

I read their response with a mixture of understanding and puzzlement. I can understand that electronic equipment might interfere with the distillery’s operations and that any malfunctions might result in sparks which could ignite the spirit fumes during the distillation process.

However, I find it puzzling that the pictures above were taken in the first place if such a rule was in place. I realise that those pictures might have been taken during days when the distillery was not in operation, but wouldn’t that still contravene the blanket ban of no photography being allowed in the first place?

I realise that I might be nit-picking, but the reason why I bring this up is that if Diageo’s distilleries didn’t allow for photos to be taken within their facilities, wouldn’t this be something that applied to all other distilleries as well? Of the 8 distilleries I visited during my time on Islay, only Caol Ila and Lagavulin imposed such sweeping restrictions on the taking of photos while the other 6 distilleries were quite lax in terms of photos being taken.

I believe that the more likely reason that Diageo put this measure in place would be to do with safeguarding their whisky making processes more than their concerns of safety. However, this is just speculation and I may be wrong so please do take my opinion at your discretion.

I have immense respect for Diageo. They have come a long way from the early days of DCL and are truly a force to be reckoned with in the spirits and beverages industry. However, I believe that there needs to be a level of compromise with their stance on issues such as this.

I personally felt rather underwhelmed when I was informed during my visits to Caol Ila and Lagavulin that I was not allowed to take any pictures within the facilities. When you consider that I had made the trip to Islay primarily to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of the distilleries, the photos that I took would be a proper memento for me in order to be able to reminisce fondly of my time on the island.

I did enjoy my tours at Caol Ila and Lagavulin and the tastings were top notch, but I came away from both distilleries with a feeling of regret. I was looking forward to taking some quality pictures of the inner sanctum of both distilleries, especially the stillhouse at Caol Ila. However, my hopes were dashed and all I have now are the pictures that reside in my mind’s eye.

I still highly recommend both distilleries for tours as they are experiences in themselves, but I also caution visitors to be prepared for this reality. Enjoy the tour while it lasts and take the time to take in every aspect of the distillery itself. Chances are those images you commit to memory will be the only ones that you’ll have to remember the trips by.






2 thoughts on “Diageo’s ban on photography: Not the full picture?

  1. Iain Banks mentions this in his book Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram. As he says, the electronics/safety angle only makes sense if they think people still take photographs using Victorian-era equipment, i.e. cloaks and that smoke-wand thing. And plenty of distilleries let you take as many photos as you like, and to my knowledge are all still standing. I also find it hard to believe that it’s to keep trade secrets, since if there were any valuable secrets to be found out they wouldn’t let tour groups march through multiple times a day. I suppose it’s possible that the rule started in the days when a camera flash WAS an actual flash of FLAMES and hence genuinely dangerous, but has been kept because of tradition and that no one has thought to change it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cheers for the comment mate and I reckon that you’re right on that score. I posed the trade secrets angle as a bit of a reach but Iain Banks’ explanation does make more sense.

    I can understand and appreciate the need to carry on with the traditional way of things as it does retain a link to how things were done in years gone by, but I reckon this particular issue needs to be addressed and updated to a more modern perspective heh.

    I’ve visited your blog before and love that you’re flying the Melbourne flag up high (was there for Years 11-12 and University at RMIT till 2013). Best wishes and I look forward to checking out your future posts!




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