Scotch whisky is worth nearly £4bn to the Scottish economy, according to research carried out for the industry.
The analysis shows the extent of the boom in whisky from 2000 to 2008, when years of sharp export increases were stopped by the global recession.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), representing the major distillers, said the product had as much impact on the Scottish economy as tourism.
It said it produced earnings per worker 12 times higher than those of tourism.
Only the oil and gas sector has more impact, and represents higher earnings per worker.
Behind the sharp increase in exports over the past decade, there has been a 12% decline in the number of people who work for the SWA's members - down from 11,100 to 9,800.
However, it is claimed most of that loss has been in other parts of the UK, and that the number of whisky jobs in Scotland has fallen 3%.
There has been a decline in the number working in blending and bottling, while the number employed in visitor centres has been one of the industry's new success stories.
And although the industry is seen as being rooted in rural Scotland, only about a fifth of its jobs are in the Highlands and Islands.
It is claimed that the number of jobs supported indirectly through employment by the industry - including employees spending their earnings - reaches 35,000 people.
The analysis has been carried out for the SWA by consultants Verso Economics.
It shows that, in 2008, annual turnover in the industry was £6.4bn.
Exports reached £3.1bn. Spending with Scottish suppliers increased by 61% over the eight years, reaching £1.1bn. That includes £200m spent on cereals.
The industry's capital spend reached £355m, though most of that was spent on equipment from outside Scotland. A third was invested in Scotland.
Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the SWA, said the study confirmed that whisky was a cornerstone of the Scottish economy.
"The new UK government wants to support manufacturing and exporters, and build a fairer tax system," he said.
"It could combine all three objectives by reforming an unfair duty regime which undermines the competitiveness of the Scotch whisky industry.
"The alcohol duty structure is no longer fit for purpose, discriminating against Scotch whisky at home and sending out the wrong message overseas."
He welcomed the new coalition government's commitment to reviewing alcohol taxation.
"The aim must be to put in place a fairer and more socially responsible regime where all alcohol is taxed according to content," he said.
"With the right support, the Scotch whisky industry can deliver even more to communities across Scotland".