Scotch whiskey, although delicious, is very energy intensive to produce. Creating Scotch whiskey involves a four-step process of malting, mashing, fermentation and distillation. The kettles are heated using natural gas or fossil fuel oil which boils the mash and distils the alcohol. The creation of Scotch whiskey requires burning vast quantities of peat to dry barely. The peat gives the whiskey a smokey flavour. Peatlands are areas that consist of organic materials from decaying plants. The peat captures carbon dioxide normally released during decomposition and is trapped as carbon in the oxygen-free peatland. Peatlands are important carbon sinks as they can sequester 550 gigatonnes of carbon, more than any other vegetation type, including forests. However, once the peat is burned during scotch distillation, all the carbon is released into the atmosphere.
To undo these environmental impacts while continuing to produce Scotch whiskey, owners of the 140 distilleries in Scotland have pledged to recreate their industry into net zero operations by 2040. This is all without government intervention. The Scotch Whisky Association is on board with this pledge as well. The Association wants its customers to imagine a future where distilleries no longer rely on fossil fuels. Instead, they create an industry using energy generated by wind, wood chips and ocean tides.
From 2009 to 2022, the Scotch whiskey industry reduced its carbon emission by more than half and has gone from consuming just 2% renewable to 39%. Offshore wind farms have been installed in Scotland’s coastal waters, near whiskey distillery islands, to pump electricity to land. Distillery co-products as animal feed has begun to shift to their use in bio-energy production. The Association wants scotch producers to funnel the byproducts like draft and pot ale and use it for fertilizer, animal feed and biofuel.
The Association also supports whiskey makers to protect Scotland’s water and consciously recycle their waste. Many distilleries are also moving towards battery-operated vehicles used on their whiskey-tasting tours. Scotland’s government has promised 30 000 new charging stations by 2030, making this possible.
To address their environmental impact on peatland use, the Association and distilleries are actively conserving and restoring Scotland’s peatland by 2035. They are developing a Peat Action Plan to outline how the industry will deliver a net environmental gain. They are also working with agricultural partners to ensure the barley and cereal used to produce Scotch whiskey becomes net zero.
Scotland’s Scotch whiskey distilleries are taking significant and necessary measures to tackle climate change, use water responsibly, move towards a circular economy and care for the land. Their efforts should exemplify all other beverage companies looking to produce products with minimal environmental impact.