Cars, diet changes, child-free homes, and how and where you shop…
These are all things that have been highlighted as ways to reduce your carbon footprint and stop or delay climate change. It makes you think: what does the future hold for whiskey production in a time where everything is being scrutinised in order to protect the planet?
Most recently, The Scotch Whisky industry has launched its new Sustainability Strategy, which commits the sector to reach net-zero emissions in its operations by 2040. This builds on the progress made last decade, which saw a 34% decline in greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2018, 28% of primary energy use coming from non-fossil fuels (compared to 3% in 2008), and just 1% of waste currently being sent to landfills.
Research carried out in 2012 showed that for the column distillation process, the total carbon footprint was calculated to be 2,745 grams of CO2e per 750 ml bottle. Of this total, distillation is the largest component (36%) of the total product carbon footprint, followed by the glass bottle (20%), warehousing (10%), and corn production and transport (9%). These processes account for 76 per cent of the total footprint.
For the pot distillation process, the total carbon footprint is 2,971 grams of CO2e per 750-millilitre bottle. Of this total, distillation is the largest contributor (40%). The glass bottle comprises 18 per cent of the total, followed by warehousing (10%) and corn (8%). These processes account for 77 per cent of the total footprint. To translate this to layman’s terms, ten bottles of each process equate to around 135 oven usages in a year.
In the summer of 2018, the river Spey was running 97% lower than its typical minimum, and the following winter did not bring enough rain to replenish it. Some distilleries had to halt production because they ran out of water. Is the past a preview of what is to come?
What am I exactly getting at here? Well, as part of Belfast Whiskey Week, I was fortunate enough to be given the Belgrove Distillery introduction box. This is a distillery about which I embarrassingly knew nothing. So, I got reading.
Firstly, Australia’s Belgrove is one of the very few whisky distilleries worldwide that grows all its grain, malts, ferments, distils, and barrel ages on site. Secondly, Master Distiller Peter Bignell is modest and transparent, and he strikes me as very proud of what he has created. For his distillery in Tasmania, he built his copper pot still from scratch, directly fired with biofuel (used cooking oil), from a roadhouse next to his farm. The hot water used in production is also biofuel heated.
The plant equipment (tractors, forklift and truck) also run on Biodiesel made from the used cooking oil. The only significant material Peter brings to the farm is waste cooking oil. Afterwards, the spent mash is fed to the Belgrove sheep, cooling water comes from his very own dam, and the wastewater is either recycled or used for irrigation, including the next rye crop. The water he uses for brewing and diluting is harvested from his roofs, and even the yeast is often reused.
I mean… wow. I’ve been on a fair few distillery tours, and they all emphasise their commitment to using local grains and the likes of the waste products going to the farms for animal feed, but Belgrove is on a different level here.
It’s all well and good drawing attention to your “green” credentials, but does that matter if the whisky is low quality? Does water affect the whisky? River Spey or rainwater collected from your roof… there’s probably a whole new article here that I will avoid getting into now. Instead, let’s get to the box and find out:
Belgrove Oat Whisky Batch 5 – Review
52.3% ABV; A$155 for 500 ml.
Per Belgrove: “This Batch 5 is a blend of 2 casks, one previously held a Tasmanian Malt Whisky and the other a Tasmanian Pinot Noir.”
Color: Deep copper.
On the nose: Lots of sweet cream initially followed by a whack of caramel, honey, sweet popcorn, foam bananas, and a light dusting of spearmint. Liquorice, prunes and custard creams all come to the fore also.
In the mouth: More unmistakable liquorice that turns to fiery aniseed, smoke, dark cherries and smokey bacon crisps make this an exciting palate. A final punch of black pepper at the end, followed by more cinnamon. A real fireball.
Belgrove 100% Rye Whisky – Review
45% ABV; this is an earlier release than the batch listed on the Belgrove site. We’re using A$129 for the scoring.
On the nose: This is relatively light and initially fruity with green apples and kiwi fruit being prominent. Marmalade, mown grass, fruit salad and pine nuts are surprising but reasonably noticeable.
In the mouth: A real eclectic concoction of Parma violets, fruit cake, raisins, orange zest, and coffee beans. Then red apples and vanilla kick out towards the end. On the finish, more warmth with cinnamon and cloves, which I feel maybe a Belgrove trademark at this point.
Belgrove Peated Rye Whisky – Review
50% ABV. A$155 from Belgrove.
Color: Pale gold.
On the nose: Lots of different aspects of this one for me, firstly some smoke and light cigar ash, which then turns to a savoury mix of digestive biscuits and rye bread. This then goes sweet into stewed apples, Christmas cake and key lime pie.
In the mouth: lots more sweet smoke and burnt match sticks. Then it turns quite herbal combined with the sweetness of apricots which bizarrely morph into menthol cigarettes. Signature Belgrove finish, lots of smoke, lots of spice with cinnamon and nutmeg dominant throughout.
Well, isn’t it surprising what you can do with some used cooking oil and some rainwater! Of course, as we all know, it’s not just down to the ingredients, but it’s the work of the distiller himself that brings it all together. Still these samples are seriously impressive. So I’m scoring these purely on the whisky itself; I’m not sure if these are the ones that equate to the bottles on their site. If they are, then they are all around the £60 to £80 mark which I understand is steep, especially for a 50cl bottling.
So Belgrove; very good, but what do I need to do regarding my whisky drinking?! Well, a reduction of circa 3kg of CO2 per 750ml bottle is pretty substantial, and production will be impacted in some way, shape or form. Still, it’s not really a patch on two billionaires pointlessly racing into space producing an astronomical (pun intended) amount of CO2 within minutes.
But, speaking candidly: while whisky production isn’t really on the hitlist of governments to cut carbon emissions, the impact stands to be more significant. The whiskies we love and treasure may well soon suffer a considerable effect on production; time will tell. Maybe distilleries should take a page out of Peter Bignell’s book?
Tasting set image by David. Other images courtesy of Belgrove.