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How climate change is affecting the spirits business

3 min read

How climate change is affecting the spirits business
As climate change is affecting every aspect of our lives, some organisations in the spirits industry across the globe are actively focusing on increasing their green credentials
Spirits producers are recognising the need to take action to minimise their impact on the environment in line with industry regulations. Many have started thinking about taking positive and progressive steps towards tackling climate change.

Effect on flavour profile

Martha Dalton, co-founder of Never Say Die Bourbon believes that weather has a huge impact on the flavour profile of bourbon.
“Climate change is affecting bourbon production in multiple ways. The rising temperatures in Kentucky could accelerate the ageing process and the volume of bourbon lost to evaporation, which is known as the ‘angel's share’. As a new bourbon brand, we are fortunate to have been able to integrate low-carbon solutions and plan for climate change from day one, such as producing Never Say Die at a zero-discharge distillery, and ensuring our infusing mashing process uses 60 per cent less energy than the manufacturing standard. 
"The risk of droughts and availability of water are some of the big issues facing the bourbon industry"
“The risk of droughts and availability of water are some of the biggest issues facing the bourbon industry, so we are consistently looking at ways to reduce water usage in our production process.”

Effect on the quality of the spirits

Whisky barrels at Bladnock Distillery in Scotland
Even the quality of the spirit can decline in unexpected warm temperatures. In the Scottish Lowlands, Bladnoch’s Distillery Manager, Neil Bulloch says, “Hotter temperatures have an effect on the production of spirit during the fermentation process, due to not being able to cool the sugary wort down enough because of the cooling water temperature. When the yeast is added, the temperatures exceed 34 degrees. Once the temperature exceeds 34 degrees the yeast dies and stops converting the sugary wort to alcohol, giving less spirit produced per tonne of malt.”
Morris Whisky in Australia has been producing single malt whisky and the region in Rutherglen, Victoria has seen fluctuating temperatures. Head distiller Darren Peck says, “In the winter, we get days where we scrape frost off our windscreens with temperatures dropping to -6°C. In the summer, we are typically Australian, which is about 40 degrees. Because of our temperatures being elevated, we get a much bigger angel’s share. From my judgement, a whisky matured three to four years here is giving me the same flavour profile of a whisky matured for about eight to ten years to Scotland. We also don’t use any peat in our whisky as we want to stay as local to our distillery as possible and save fuel miles on transport.”

Complications from frost and heat

Spirits bottles in a bar
Darren believes that Australia is very good at water conservation owing to facing frequent dry spells and it is something more temperate zones may have to start considering to cope.
Emilie Giffard, the fifth generation descendent who is also the brand strategy and innovative projects director at the family-operated Giffard in Angers says, “In France, crops are more complicated. Weather that sees both frost and heat can damage the fruits, impacting the quantity and quality available after the harvest.
"Last summer, we only had one harvest instead of two as there was a heatwave and insufficient water"
"For example, last summer, because of the heatwave and drought, we had only one harvest instead of two as there was insufficient water. We preserved water to prepare better which resulted in two successful harvests this year.”  The team at Giffard is also thinking of sustainable solutions at every level—bottling, labelling, recycling and composting.   

Problems in hospitality

Water shortage is also an issue in hospitality where Walter Pintus, general manager at Shoreditch Arts Club says spirits production is definitely becoming more challenging. He adds, “Energy costs are reflected on the final spirits prices. Water required for the distillations may become a rarity and lack of fertile lands may increase as certain areas are becoming climatically unsustainable.”

Moves towards a sustainable industry

North American white oak tree in Kentucky
Kentucky Cooperage, a part of Independent Stave Company (ISC), the largest producer of barrels in the world, has an initiative on how they help forests for every tree that’s felled. They believe that selectively removing mature trees creates more room for the remaining ones which gain more sunlight, store more carbon and help reduce the impact of the greenhouse effect on our environment.
Angel’s Envy, a bourbon whisky distilled in Louisville, Kentucky has recently started the Toast The Trees initiative to preserve and grow white oak trees which are integral to bourbon production. By law, as barrels can be used only once for bourbon whiskies, several Scottish whiskies import bourbon barrels to finish their product.
"From water stewardship to energy efficiency, we’ve set ourselves clear goals to manage these vital areas and are seeing the benefit"
“We recently completed the installation of a £4 million AD Plant (Anaerobic/Aerobic Digestion) at Balmenach Distillery—home to Caorunn Gin—making this one of the greenest distilleries operating in the Scotch whisky industry today. From water stewardship to energy efficiency, we’ve set ourselves clear goals to manage these vital areas and are already seeing the benefit of the early adoption of strategies and technologies,” says Sean Priestley, Group Distilleries Manager at International Beverage—home to Old Pulteney, Speyburn, Balblair and anCnoc single malt whiskies, Hankey Bannister blended Scotch whisky, Caorunn Gin and Phraya rum.
International Beverage is also currently installing Thermal Vapour Recompression (TVR) systems at their Balblair and Knockdhu distilleries which will result in a 30 per cent reduction in the energy usage of these sites.
Banner photo: Li Sun

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