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A Lot of Hot Air – a Glencadam Tasting and Sustainability in Scotch Whisky

Glencadam approached Malt to join them on an online whisky tasting of their core range.

I was interested on many levels: because I had enjoyed some lovely independently bottled Glencadam from Na Bràithrean reviewed here by Phil and Jason, because Glencadam is local to me, and because Glencadam have just re-installed a waterwheel within the distillery itself, which is surely a shift to a more environmentally sustainable future? Glencadam provided the samples and Zoom link but – as always – Malt provides the independent thoughts and opinions.

The first green whisky I have ever tasted was the 2021 Cadenhead’s Anomaly blend, rolled out as part of the Online Tasting Week earlier this year. In that case, the whisky was green in colour only, having apparently travelled across the Atlantic to the USA and back again in its anomalous CO2 emitting journey to eventual release.

Elsewhere, the marketers have grown tired of terms like limited edition, small batch, hand crafted, and artisan and now the latest boasts appear to be about sustainability. Of course, it should be! We are in 2021 and hurtling towards a climate catastrophe. Extreme weather events once the doomsday prediction of a small bunch of wacky climate scientists are tragically upon us with increasing regularity. Governments have pronounced ambitious legally binding targets the world over but there are few practical plans to limit greenhouse gasses.

As consumers we are increasingly trending towards more environmentally friendly policies and products and companies are keen to cash in. In early 2020 I naively wrote about the sustainability message at Tomatin and their plastic packaging. Since then, the whisky industry has taken more positive steps; hopefully my writing has gone the same way.

Let’s start with Nc’Nean, the recent start up distillery has all the advantages of being designed in modern times with a focus on sustainability, becoming the UK’s first Net Zero distillery. Mark has written about them, as has Jason. Whilst they have differing opinions on the spirit, both have been taken by the integrity of the distilling team and their openness. You can easily access the Nc’Nean Sustainability report on their website. Their annual report covers cradle-to-gate emissions but not the final distribution, use and recycling by the consumer.

Below, you can see the process map developed by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER)(LOLeye-roll) which has been working with producers for more than 10 years to highlight the carbon emissions from all parts of the beverage industry. This shows the full-life cycle but some parts are missed out in cradle-to-gate assessments.

In reviewing the carbon emissions from Nc’Nean, they show a total of 267.5 tonnes of CO2 produced in 2020. This seems like a lot but – compared with a similar distillery such as Inchdairnie which is also a recent new build distillery afforded all opportunities to build efficiency into the process – it is a relatively small amount.

In 2019, Inchdairnie was producing 4,504 Tonnes CO2 across the organisation. This figure excluded the final consumer, as they are yet to bottle their own whisky. Drilling down further to per litre figures, BIER estimated 3.9kg CO2 /litre of alcohol produced as a baseline, Inchdairnie a respectable 2.4kg CO2 /litre, and Nc’Nean 2.54kg CO2 /litre of alcohol produced. The Inchdairnie report makes interesting reading, as it is part technical report and part challenge to the industry to agree common comparative measures.

What this show us is that finding an equitable comparison will be necessary to properly examine the distillery credentials. Inchdairnie has a lower per litre footprint than Nc’Nean, who have announced that they are already net zero. The higher overall total is accounted for by the different volumes produced. Inchdairnie produces 1,882,398 litres per year whilst Nc’Nean is listed as around 94,000 litres, giving a rough equivalent ratio between production volume and total CO2.

So, how did Nc’Nean achieve carbon neutral status?  Well, they actually paid for carbon offsets with a highland tree planter. Offsetting the total carbon output by tree planting will take about 20 years. When you finally sit down and enjoy a dram of Nc’Nean 23 year old, you will be warmed not only by the overall increasing global temperatures, but also by the thought that the 2020 carbon offset has been fully realised.

It’s important to say that using carbon offsets is supported by the likes of Greenpeace only so long as all other efforts have been made to reduce carbon in the process in addition to offsetting. Recently, Oxfam raised concerns about food price increases as farmland is turned over to Carbon sequestration projects such as tree planting but – in the case of the mountainous Scottish Highlands – I don’t imagine there is a significant impact. Clearly, Nc’Nean are following a considerate environmental model and taking sustainability beyond that into areas such as soil management and organics. Well done to them.

I’d also like to mention Ardnamurchan Distillery, whose website proudly proclaims them to be Scotland’s greenest distillery. All the heat for the stills is from a bio-mass boiler using locally sourced timber. The power is from a small hydroelectric scheme in a local river. The local purchasing policies support the community around the distillery and aim to limit their environmental impact as much as possible.

In 2020 Whisky Magazine awarded them Sustainable Distillery of the Year. Facts and figures that would allow us to make any comparisons – or at least confirm the claim of greenest in Scotland – are not currently public though. Connal Mackenzie, Sales Director at Adelphi stated:

Being green is about empowering (in our case) a very remote circular economy so that heavy fuels, animal feeds etc. don’t have to be brought in, water is used sparingly, excess heat is distributed or converted to electricity. It is also about trying to manage the lightest supply, production and logistics chain possible.

As for the bigger distillers… well, that’s the interesting fulcrum for this article, really.

On the packaging front, Bruichladdich’s online and distillery shop now sell the core range bottles without a tin as default but allow consumers to opt into the packaging if they prefer, saving over 2,300 tins at the time of going to press. Articles on their website between October 2020 and June 2021 talk a lot about things other people are doing to be environmentally friendly such as the work the Islay community is doing to progress towards Net Zero. It would appear that since 2018 Bruichladdich have been thinking about ways of being greener and are still thinking about it; they are currently in phase 1, which is a feasibility study!

It’s fair to say that some smaller changes will have made an impact, such as a new heating system, and sourcing electricity from a renewable supplier. Other aspects of the future development will include installing a local malting facility greatly reducing transport CO2e and supporting the local community. Bruichladdich also are certified as a B Corporation demonstrating high standards in social and environmental impact. Bruichladdich acknowledge the geographical and logistical challenges of switching a historic distillery on Islay to Net Zero. The important thing for me is that there is a strategy!  For the interested, details can be found on on Bruichladdich’s own site.

Macallan, on the other hand, announced a collaboration with Bentley Motors!  You can imagine the chat in the various whisky WhatsApp groups I’m in related to reaching Net Zero with a company that prides itself on producing large-engined planet-eaters. The press release on this announcement was typically off-the-point: “luxury, luxury, luxury, brand this, luxury that, equally luxurious, and green.” Everyone I know had a great laugh at this seemingly contradictory arrangement.

Digging a little deeper into the Macallan website, it turns out both brands are actually setting equally ambitious targets. Macallan’s estate will become Net Zero in 2030 whilst Bentley will only produce Electric Vehicles by 2030, with its Crewe factory already carbon neutral. Of course, in the short term this means simply that VIP visitors will get a lift around Macallan in a hybrid Bentley. Macallan are also committed to sustainable packaging; so presumably the next edition of Macallan Folio will be fully compostable?  Jokes aside, Macallan claim their packaging will be fully sustainable by 2025.

Macallan’s claims are accredited by the Butterfly Mark, a demonstration of ‘sustainable luxury’. Gaining accreditation from a body such as Positive Luxury who issues the Butterfly Mark, or B Corporation in the case of Bruichladdich, is an important protection from claims of greenwashing and I have to say both Macallan and Bruichladdich are pretty strong here.

Looking at Edrington group as a whole it becomes tricky to perform comparative analysis with other distilleries. Edrington’s carbon intensity is based around the conservative Scope 1&2 emissions. These are the emissions they are directly responsible for at the distillery during production but not the cradle to grave, or cradle to gate emissions published by others.

So, whilst the likes of Highland Park appears initially to have a respectable 2.15kgs of CO2 / litre alcohol produced however the true picture easily be considerably higher, perhaps even double when you consider that barley is largely grown on, and transported from, the mainland. Whereas Macallan has a respectable 0.66kgs COper litre due to the biomass boiler Glenrothes has a middle of the road 1.48kgs COper litre but we can only see part of the story.

Scope 1 EmissionsScope 2 EmissionsScope 3 Emissions
Fuel combustion
Company vehicles
Fugitive emissions
Purchased electricity, heat and steamPurchased goods and services

Business travel

Employee commuting
Waste disposal
Use of sold products

Transportation and distribution (up- and downstream)

Investments

Leased assets and franchises

 

Source: the Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust sums up why measuring and reducing Scope 3 emissions are so important:

“There are a number of benefits associated with measuring Scope 3 emissions. For many companies, the majority of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and cost reduction opportunities lie outside their own operations. By measuring Scope 3 emissions, organisations can:

  • Assess where the emission hotspots are in their supply chain;
  • Identify resource and energy risks in their supply chain;
  • Identify which suppliers are leaders and which are laggards in terms of their sustainability performance;
  • Identify energy efficiency and cost reduction opportunities in their supply chain;
  • Engage suppliers and assist them to implement sustainability initiatives
  • Improve the energy efficiency of their products
  • Positively engage with employees to reduce emissions from business travel and employee

As for Diageo owners of one of Scotland’s largest polluters (Cameronbridge Distillery 2015, EEA)? Well they are equalling the ambitions of Macallan by targeting Net Zero in 2030. At Cameronbridge itself a large 30MW bioenergy plant is helping to reduce emissions. It should be noted that the Diageo commitment is for Scope 1&2 emissions they directly influence rather than the whole cradle-to-grave process; basically excluding supply chain or consumer-end of the process in the commitment. However they have committed to reach a 50% reduction with suppliers too. As for their distilleries, Oban (800,000 litres/year) and Royal Lochnagar (500,000 litres/year) are small historic distilleries that have become carbon neutral, achieved by converting the boilers that heat the stills to biofuel using a by-product of rapeseed oil that is 100% renewable reducing the overall carbon footprint by 98%.

The newly constructed Brora (800,000lpa) has been designed to be carbon neutral. Considering that Brora, Oban and Royal Lochnagar’s cumulative production is only a tiny fraction of the output of the other Scottish Diageo distilleries they seem to make a lot of noise about these tiny gains. 1% of production generously rounded up was carbon neutral in 2020. To put this in context I have prepared a table of Diageo distilleries below. Diageo were asked about CO2 / litre alcohol carbon intensity to allow a comparison but declined to provide figures.

DistilleryRegionYear foundedOwnerCapacity / LPA
CameronbridgeGrain1824Diageo136000000
Glen OrdHighlands1838Diageo11500000
RoseisleHighlands2009Diageo10800000
TeaninichHighlands1817Diageo10200000
Caol IlaIslay1846Diageo6400000
DufftownSpeyside1896Diageo5900000
AuchroiskSpeyside1974Diageo5700000
DailuaineSpeyside1852Diageo4900000
ClynelishHighlands1967Diageo4700000
MortlachSpeyside1823Diageo3800000
LinkwoodSpeyside1821Diageo3700000
BenrinnesSpeyside1826Diageo3600000
GlendullanSpeyside1897Diageo3600000
CardhuSpeyside1824Diageo3300000
InchgowerSpeyside1871Diageo3200000
TaliskerHighlands1830Diageo3000000
GlenlossieSpeyside1876Diageo2800000
Glen ElginSpeyside1898Diageo2600000
MannochmoreSpeyside1971Diageo2600000
Blair AtholHighlands1798Diageo2500000
GlenkinchieLowlands1837Diageo2500000
LagavulinIslay1816Diageo2400000
CragganmoreSpeyside1869Diageo2200000
DalwhinneHighlands1897Diageo2200000
StrathmillSpeyside1891Diageo2000000
Glen SpeySpeyside1878Diageo1600000
KnockandoSpeyside1898Diageo1400000
BroraHighland2021Diageo800000

 

ObanHighlands1794Diageo800000
Royal LochnagarHighlands1845Diageo500000
Total production 

247200000

Total production carbon neutral 20200.85%

Table data source: Gray, Alan S. Scotch Whisky Industry Review 2020 & whiskypedia.com

Deanston distillery caught my eye as a runner-up in Whisky Magazine’s Icons Sustainable Distillery Category, too. Beyond being powered by Hydroelectricity, there is nothing public about the performance of the distiller in relation environmental measures. In fact, a search of the internet highlights more SEPA performance concerns at Deanston than plaudits for their environmental achievements. Deanston must have made a pretty persuasive 300-word entry for the Whisky Magazine award; the criteria for the 2022 award can be found here. At £595 per entry (or roughly £2 a word) this particular award would do well to tighten its criteria or become at risk of being used for greenwashing.

As for Glencadam and their waterwheel?  A YouTube video states that they hope it will produce some electricity in due course, but I could not ascertain how much power or what the electricity will be used for. A further request for information about the sustainability strategy is still outstanding despite their initial keenness for engagement.

It seems that if you want to do anything more ambitious than a couple of positive social media posts, these brands slink off pretty quickly. The waterwheel seems destined to be a nice feature of a visitor centre they are building in Brechin but beyond that the environmental credentials question is unanswered. I also searched Glencadam’s parent company Angus Dundee Distillers but as you can see it was not particularly fruitful.

Last year the Scotch Whisky Association committed itself and its members to a Net Zero target by 2045, including an indicative roadmap to get there. SWA notes – somewhat ominously – that if efforts are not made to achieve Net Zero, there will be a 400,000 tonne CO2 e deficit in 2045 according to baseline assumptions. That’s a lot of greenhouse gasses still being pumped from the industry. Many of the recent CO2 reductions, the report notes, have occurred through the general greening of the energy network and not through active measures by the industry. An industry where some of the traditional players look away when challenged about their green credentials is certainly something consumers should think about. Could avoiding these challenging questions be a risk reduction measure given the increasing levels of litigation and complaints against products claiming to be green without the evidence to back them up?

Fortunately, in the UK advertisers have the Advertising Standards Agency to keep them right. The UK has a Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct Promotional Marketing known as the CAP Code which, under rule 11, requires:

  • “the basis of environmental claims must be clear, and unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information;
  • absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation (e.g. comparative claims such as “greener” or “friendlier” can be justified if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer’s previous product or competitors’ products, and the basis of the comparison is clear); and
  • marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product (unless it is made clear otherwise [this is where we see qualifying statements such as cradle-to-gate. GS]), and any limits of the life cycle must be made clear.”

It would appear there is strong regulation within the UK around what companies can and cannot claim regarding sustainability. We should be reasonably confident that when a company states they have a strategy to go carbon neutral, it will be a genuine claim even when that strategy involves a motor car company!

If you want to buy consciously then the newer distillers appear to have stolen a march on their traditional competition. More transparency is required from many though; let’s start to see CO2e per litre on each bottle in a whisky shop to aid consumers. Every distillery should be producing reports with actual facts and figures like those produced by Inchdairnie and Nc’Nean, rather than wish-washy CSR reports from Edrington, which have very few hard numbers and hand-pick the best stats to highlight. Inchdairnie are right to challenge the current state of play when it comes to environmental emissions and reporting.

So, let’s get back to the Glencadam whiskies that prompted my environmental investigations:

Glencadam Aged 10 Years – Review

46% expect to pay around £35

Colour: Not very green, perhaps fresh straw.

On the nose: Very fresh and bright, spirit forward but not spirity. Nicely fruity: classic apple and ripe pear, pear drops, vanilla syrup, crystalised ginger, galia melon, carambola and pineapple fronds.

In the mouth: Mellow fruits, citrus, ginger and white pepper, apple and pears drop away to leave a medium peppery finish.

Conclusions:

This is a really strong score from me and certainly it reflects the price. The high percentage of first fill bourbon really bolsters this whisky. 10 years seems to be a good length of time in first fill for a lot of whiskies. When we talk about great entry level whisky this ticks most of the boxes: slightly more generous ABV at 46%, check; lots of flavour, check; non-chill filtered, check; and natural colour, check. I’m certainly likely to have a bottle of this close to hand going forward.

Score: 6/10

Glencadam Aged 15 Years – Review

46%; expect to pay around £60

Colour: Still not very green, sweet white wine and hay bales.

On the nose: Sweeter than the 10, fruit syrup from tinned fruit salad, brown sugar and boiled sweets, more mellow, less fruit than the 10, butter mints

In the mouth: Initially richer fruit but blunted by the cask, some raisin, ripe pear, baked apple, a light toffee sauce, a bit of a slow burner, then wood spices build, flamed citrus peel, more robust with a lasting finish.

Conclusions:

Apparently one of the most popular in the range, this is too long in the first fill bourbon for my palate; there is 60 – 65% first fill in this mix. Again, I can see why this is popular due to the honest presentation. But really, I can’t see past the 10 year old.

Score: 5/10

Glencadam Aged 21 Years – Review

46%; expect to pay £100

Colour: not green either but rather ripe barley fields.

On the nose: Heavy rich fruit, sauternes poached pear, fresh ginger and ginger beer, fermented over ripe melon dusted with ground ginger, pineapples.

In the mouth: Viscous mouthfeel, fruit and spice intermingled beautifully, apple pie baked in crisp pastry, stem ginger in syrup, soft tinned pineapple, lovely malt character coming through strongly. Medium finish.

Conclusions:

Firstly, a disclaimer: the sample size was rather small so the score should be considered an interim and could fall either side. My first impressions are that this has the character of whisky I would have expected to pay £150 – £200. This is great spirit left alone in fairly inactive casks (there is very little first fill in the mix) to let time do the hard work. This is good old-fashioned whisky and the price point is very attractive. There’s lots of spirit character, but the finish is a little short. Perhaps (despite my previous fawning over 40% whiskies) this would benefit from 2% more ABV to carry it; maybe a larger pour might have helped? Either way this is a whisky I’ll certainly consider adding to the drink’s cabinet.

Score: 6/10

Photos variously courtesy of distillery company websites, news websites, and authors own. Glencadam photos courtesy of Glencadam, who also provided the drams; as always, this does not affect our notes or scores.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

  1. Kaz says:

    Fascinating article on a highly important subject. Unsurprising that it’s some of the newer distilleries making headway’s with sustainability, leaving the old guard scratching their heads as the world changes around them at pace.

    1. Simon says:

      Thanks for a good read. An environmental elephant in the room for the industry is peat usage. How to minimise something so integral to the flavour of many of our favourite drams? The standard industry response is they only make up a small proportion of overall peat usage. Yet with the biggest contributor, horticulture, set to reduce greatly in 2024 when peat is banned from use in compost sold in the UK, this line won’t last much longer.

      1. Graham says:

        Simon,

        Thanks for your comment. I had swerved the peat issue here but agree it’s a problem. I’ve started to read up on this as a result of your prompt and may get to the point of a detailed article in due course.

        for example the peat ban in 2024 is only on peat sales to domestic gardeners and will be required because a voluntary phasing out by 2021 has abjectly failed.

        the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage Peat Strategy reads like a Strategy to have Strategies rather than a useful practical approach to peat management.

        certainly food for thought, thanks.

        Graham

    2. Graham says:

      Thanks Kaz, and certainly I agree. Some of these old guard companies have huge resources due to the whisky boom and sky-rocketing prices but are somewhat ungenerous with their environmental investments.

    1. Graham Skinner says:

      Hi John, certainly an interesting one to research, and one that grew arms and legs during drafting. There is very little critical professional journalism on this topic, mostly just redrafting press releases. As such I am extremely grateful to Malt to provide a platform for amateur writers to challenge the status quo free and independent of industry.

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