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The recent years have seen an unprecedented push towards sustainability and a green recovery. We are increasingly looking towards the future and thinking of conserving and protecting our resources, ecosystems and natural habitats.

What of the whisky industry? Does conservation weigh on the minds of whisky-makers and drinkers? 



Who cares?

It turns out there are several dram good reasons to care. 

Making whisky has a sizeable carbon footprint. A large amount of energy is needed to extract a clear sugary liquid from the mashed grain, after which there is no use for the grain residue. Pot still distillation is also a highly inefficient process that requires multiple cycles of heating to produce a clear enough spirit.


Men harvesting peat in Islay (Image Source: Whisky Advocate)


And then there’s Scotch whisky’s iconic ingredient: peat. Peatlands are natural carbon sinks, but harvesting peat releases thousand-year-old carbon into the atmosphere. A whopping 80 percent of the UK’s peatlands have already been damaged.


Will we ever run out of peat? Read to find out.


Whisky-making can adversely affect the environment. So, with many other sectors going green, the whisky industry isn’t one to be left behind. And for an industry that prizes tradition and heritage, there is now genuine environmental consciousness within the mainstream whisky industry.

Glenfiddich Distillery and Glengoyne Distillery are minimising their carbon footprint by converting their mashed grain residue to low carbon biofuel. Through the Scotch Whisky Association, the wider Scotch industry has committed to operating on a net zero basis by 2040. Already a step ahead are Nc’nean Distillery and Suntory’s distilleries, who are already running entirely on renewable energy. 


A furry seal basking on the coast of Dornoch Firth near Glenmorangie Distillery (Image Source: Wild Scotland)


Glenmorangie Distillery is also anxious about the health of its water source - the Dornoch Firth. In the past, the distillery would dump undesirable byproducts of distillation into the waters. Today, the distillery filters its waste for toxicity before discarding it. It has also partnered with marine biologists to release thousands of oysters into the Firth, since oysters in the ecosystem would clean up pollution in the water and lock carbon into the seabed. 



Why should I care? What is one thing to remember?

Much has been said about how whisky-making could harm the environment. But we often overlook the fact that, conversely, the fate of whisky is inextricably tied to the health of the natural environment. 

Whisky is at serious risk of becoming a scarcity within the next decades if good sources of barley and water are no longer available due to climate change. A study by University College London has shown that a 2˚C rise in temperature could lead to frequent droughts and cut off water supply to Scotch distilleries. Higher temperatures can also affect the yield and quality of barley.

Even the iconic flavour of whisky is threatened. For instance, hundreds of years of Scotch whisky production has been developed to suit the temperate climate of Scotland. Higher temperatures in distilleries today would adversely affect the processes and alter the signature character and texture of Scotch whisky. 

As individuals, we could play our part by reducing our energy bills, switching to electric vehicles and making environmentally conscious purchases. We may also want to savour that dram of single malt in our glasses. This is a luxury that future generations may not have.