The Impact of Climate Change on Whiskey Production

The manufacturing of whiskey requires a climate that is conducive to growing barley and transporting the finished product without interruption. However, the industry faces a serious threat from climate change. Scotch whiskey makers have several difficulties, and Felipe Schrieberg investigates these issues and possible solutions.

Alterations to the Climate in the Southwest Atlantic

It is now generally accepted (at least in most nations) and recognized by governments around the world that climate change is having an impact on our planet. Though Scots might be forgiven for welcoming the warmer weather, climate change is having both positive and negative impacts there.

It’s impossible to deny that the Earth as a whole is warming. The International Panel on Climate Change has released its fifth assessment report, which upholds its previous findings. Human-caused increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses are altering Earth’s climate. The effects of global warming and rising sea levels on ecosystems and human societies are already being felt.

The Same Holds for Scotland

The average spring, summer, and winter temperatures in Scotland have increased by roughly one degree Celsius between 1961 and 2006, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). The average annual precipitation rate in Scotland has increased by 27% over the same period. Aberdeen has the highest sea level rise in Britain, at 60 millimeters since 1920, while the seas around Scotland have warmed by an average of one degree Celsius over the previous 20 years.

The effects of climate change pose significant threats to Scotland. Yet, what does this portend for distilleries producing Scotch whiskey? How can distilleries future-proof themselves against climate change? Let’s start with the difficulties encountered by the market.

The good news should be presented first wherever possible. Barley crops, a major ingredient in whiskey, will remain stable, and yields may even increase, thanks to rising temperatures across the UK. According to data collected by SEPA, the growing season in Scotland has already begun to begin 30 days sooner than it has in the past. The effects on British barley output were studied in 2016 and the results showed that baseline barley yields increased in the west of the UK. But (and here’s where it gets bad) soil saturation led to a decrease in some areas, such as southwest Scotland.

Global Warming And Scottish Whiskey

Rising temperatures in the United Kingdom might harm the wheat harvest used to make the grain whiskey that is commonly used in blends, threatening an annual export market worth over £3 billion. Wheat harvests may also be adversely harmed by rising temperatures, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, which urged researchers to prioritize developing varieties adaptable to high temperatures.

So, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows despite the potentially positive outlook for barley crops. Due to climate change, more non-native invasive plants, animals, and fungal species are appearing, which could hurt agricultural production. For instance, red band needle blight, which typically does well in more humid and warmer regions, is rapidly attacking Corsican pine, a major commercial product. The same danger exists for cereal crops.  Scotland’s snow cover has also been drastically diminished due to rising temperatures. Whiskey production could be harmed if there was less snow, or if the snow that did fall melted more quickly.

It’s simple to imagine there won’t be a water shortage if it’s raining more. Having more rain does not necessarily result in more “water of life,” as the quality of the precipitation matters. There is a growing concern that Scotland’s rivers could overflow their banks, which could have serious consequences for infrastructure, agriculture, and supply chain management. The quick accumulation of rainwater from melting snow makes an already risky situation even worse.

One hundred thousand homes, or about 4 percent of Scotland’s total, are included on SEPA’s map of flood-prone zones. In 1997, a flood in Elgin, a town significant in the production of Speyside whiskey, caused £100 million in damage and forced the evacuation of 1,200 people.

Extreme weather patterns can lead to water shortages, which in turn create further challenges. Droughts, according to a paper co-authored by Climate UK and the Scotch Whiskey Association (SWA), can reduce water flow in burn and river sources and increase water temperatures. This reduces cooling efficiency and disrupts distilleries’ ability to properly manage effluent discharges. In addition, the whiskey’s flavor can be altered by the water’s temperature.

The ships that bring in the ingredients and transport the finished whiskey from island distilleries can also be disrupted by severe weather. Supply chain disruptions and delays may occur if ferries are delayed or canceled.

The Spey

Diageo is committed to protecting the Spey River from the effects of climate change by funding the Spey Catchment Initiative. The potential effects of rising sea levels and the warming of Scottish seas are both substantial. Distilleries located immediately on the coast may experience difficulties due to rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency of severe storms.

The SWA and its members are highly concerned about the effects of climate change. Scotch whiskey accounted for 3.3% of Scotland’s overall output of greenhouse gasses in 2009, according to the industry group.

As a result, businesses have collaborated on a variety of initiatives to lessen their environmental impacts, such as improving waste management, cutting back on water consumption, and protecting water supplies and ecosystems. The SWA, whose members account for 95% of Scotland’s distilleries, has been releasing an Environmental Strategy every two years since 2010. Nothing else on the market compares to Scotland’s manufacturing sector.

Positive Outcomes Have Been Observed

From 2008 to 2015, emissions decreased by 13% per unit of energy, with total emissions decreasing by 1% despite rising production. Non-fossil fuels now provide 17 percent of the world’s energy, up 3 percentage points from 2008 and a good step towards the 2020 goal of 20 percent. Consumption of water has decreased by 14% since 2008.

The business sector is also engaged in several exciting environmental initiatives. To help restore the Dornoch Firth’s oyster and mussel beds, Glenmorangie has pledged its support. Using plants that can process the elements included in the garbage, Knockdhu has created a wildlife-friendly wetlands area for waste management.

Meanwhile, Diageo helps fund the Spey Catchment Initiative, a project for the River Spey that helps make the river more resistant to climate change and less polluted by doing things like relocating livestock that was previously grazing in areas that contaminated the water supply.

Without a doubt, the industry is making concerted efforts to combat climate change and guarantee the future production of Scotland’s golden liquid. It is still feasible, though, that environmental changes brought on by climate change will have a significant effect on output. However, it is generally difficult to predict with complete certainty whether or not many of these effects will occur. Therefore, the industry must move forward cautiously, keep in mind the potential consequences of climate change, and plan for the worst