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3 July 2017

The Production of Whisky is Being Affected by Climate Change

As global temperatures change and impact the environment, the growth of crops and produce are put at risk because they struggle to grow in the new climactic conditions. This extends to certain alcoholic beverages, with weather this year having already caused trouble in European vineyards and thereby hindered the production of wine.

Details have now started to emerge concerning the problems of making Scotch whisky in our increasingly uncertain climate. The industry has started to suffer with its level of production as a result of various changes to the Scottish environment, as well as more extreme weather patterns disrupting the shipping and delivery of the stock.

The most significant problem has been the increase in temperatures during the summer months, one of the core problems associated with climate change. The excessive warmth has heated water temperatures to a level that makes the production of spirits far less efficient, as well as reducing the river flow that is required for providing a water source in the first place. A change to the level of snowfall during the colder seasons has also been a huge influence, with an increase in some areas having affected warehouse integrity while a decrease in others has caused problems with groundwater recharge.

These issues were identified by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), a trade association established to help in the fight against climate change by ensuring the sustainability and integrity of their product. They commissioned the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) to carry out a study into the risks that a changing climate poses and identify ways in which the industry can adapt to it. The Head of Communications for the SWA made the assurance that they “take sustainability and the environment very seriously and have an ambitious and far-reaching Industry Environmental Strategy”, but that doesn’t mean that the industry won’t still take a big hit from the potential threats that climate change continues to pose.

Adjustments in the level of precipitation and the resulting floods or droughts could have a huge impact on the quantity and quality of grains, with the timing of it potentially having an influence on the reservoir water required for whisky production. The necessity to limit water use during times of droughts would also hinder the process, as would the climbing water temperatures that hinder the ability for cooling.

The stance that the SWA is taking is an important one, and without it the future of Scotch whisky would suffer even greater, though the industry as a whole isn’t completely a victim in all of this. Diageo, who are responsible for 24 Scottish whisky brands, have caused a number of environmental problems through their contribution to waste water pollution, a move which will only prove to harm their own business.

Without finding a balance between meeting demand and being environmentally responsible, the industry can’t hope to remain strong as the effects of climate change truly take hold.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.