Friday, September 23, 2011

Whisky for the Environment

OK, for the most part, the distilling process is pretty much environmentally unfriendly. The spirits industry comes in for a serious beating with Gin, tequila, and rum being the worst for the environment. The problem is that the distillation process requires loads of energy. American bourbons are aged in virgin-oak barrels that are used only once, most of those barrels end up being reused by other liquor makers. And while some of those liquor makers may produce single malts, think of the energy involved in distilling the liquor and transporting it. In terms of distillation, vodka requires more energy and water than most spirits. Now, it seems that the Speyside distilleries byproducts will fuel a local biomass energy plan.

“Waste products from around 16 of the area’s 50 distilleries will be used at the site, including well-known brands such as Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Macallan, and Famous Grouse,” the Guardian reports. Vast amounts of "draff", the spent grains used in the distilling process, and pot ale, a residue from the copper stills, are produced by the whisky industry each year and are usually transported off-site. The Rothes project, a joint venture between Helius Energy and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) will burn the draff with woodchips to generate enough electricity to supply 9,000 homes. It will be supplied by Aalborg Energie Technick, a danish engineering company. The pot ale will be made into a concentrated organic fertiliser and an animal feed for use by local farmers.

The £50m Rothes project is the latest bioenergy venture from the Scotch whisky industry, but it is believed to be the first to provide electricity for public use. A bioenergy plant at Scotland's largest distillery in Fife is close to completion. The project by Diageo will provide 98% of the thermal steam and 80% of the electrical power used at the Cameronbridge distillery. And last year, scientists at Napier University announced they had developed a method of producing biofuel from the by-products of the whisky distilling process which could power cars and even aircraft. The new fuel, they said, could be available at petrol pumps within a few years.

This isn't just a Scottish happening either, and Maker's Mark, a whisky with a green reputation is also getting on the Green Energy bandwagon. Maker's Mark tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible in their production process. “We do many things that are eco-friendly including recycling the majority of our waste, in particular glass, cardboard, paper, plastic, metals, and barrels. Right now we recycle approximately 95% of all our waste. We are looking to go to 0% waste discharge in the next 3 years. Other projects that may not be “unique” include forest stewardship, habitat improvement/sustainability, community outreach, and biodiversity (we do not use any genetically modified grains),” Master Distiller Kevin Smith said in an email to Inhabitat.

It's good to see that the distilling industry is trying to be more environmentally conscious. It's even better to see that waste from the distilling process is being used to offset the processes environmentally unfriendly aspects. As I said in a previous post, I strongly suggest when buying distilled spirit products from enviornmentally friendly distillers if you choose to drink spirits. It also might be a good idea to write your fav distiller and ask them what they are doing to cut their carbon footprint?

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  1. I do appreciate a fine sipping scotch, ye olde 'water of life', aka aqua vitae or uisge beatha. I'm something of a scotch snob/ connoisseur. None of that overpriced blended crap, thank you; better to be a purist!

    Yet another accomplishment that came to europe from Africa and the middle East; distillation dates back to the 2nd millenium BC.

    It should be noted that distillers use those oak barrels a number of times over after the initial use, although I personally prefer scotch that has been aged in sherry casks over the oak/ burbon varieties.

    Bio mass, be it from distilleries, or as is now being explored in the U.S., the leftover material from certain crops, notably corn, show tremendous promise as non-fossile fuel / renewable resources.

  2. I always thought Jack Daniels was e-friendly.

    They use their barrels only once but then they use them to to make the charcoal used for the filtering process as well as selling them and also producing other products including commercial charcoal for cooking.

  3. Good point FWM, but I would point out that it is not only the way barrels are used that makes all alcohol distillation highly energy intensive, and therefore less ecologically friendly.

  4. Naw, Maker's Mark has the best report card for the environment.

    Spirits are bad in general. The problem is that the distillation process requires loads of energy with Gin, tequila, and rum being the worst for the environment due to their production process. That's where becoming "green" is important.

    In terms of distillation, vodka requires more energy and water than most spirits. That's because it's distilled down to 95 percent ethanol—some ethanol plants even make vodka on the side—then diluted back to 40 percent. Gins are often made the same way.

    Rum is made from molasses or cane juice, and its fibrous leftovers can throw off the microorganism balance in waterways. In 2001, the EPA sued Bacardi for illegally dumping 3,000 gallons of of mostos, an industrial waste from its rum processing plant, into a river near its Puerto Rico plant. Although, that does mean that many major rum distillers now treat their water. Additionally, sugarcane is also a notoriously destructive crop, producing massive amounts of wastewater and greenhouse gases. Tequila also has a pretty bad waste problem. For every liter of tequila, you get about 11 pounds of pulp and 10 liters of vinazas, or acidic waste—which ends up befouling soil and water in Mexico’s Jalisco state, where most tequila comes from. Blue agave farmers, meanwhile, have used more and more pesticides since their crops were chewed up by insects during the 1990s.

    Wine and beer are the most environmentally friendly, but try to drink "local". The majority of their carbon footprint comes from shipping. You can minimize the miles by using buying from "close to home". But that can mean that New Yorkers should buy French, while Iowans are better off drinking California wines.

  5. Actually, I should point out that barrels tend to get "recycled" quite a bit in the whisky manufacturing industry. They do this to add flavour to the product--so you can have port barrels, burbon barrels, oak barrels. etc. used in the process.

    Transport is one of the aspects which makes distilling "environmentally unfriendly". So, shipping barrels across the globe doesn't help the old carbon footprint.

    Although, it is ironic since the Whisky Rebellion during the 1790s in Western Pennsylvania was due to the fact that it was cheaper to ship the distilled grain product Eastward rather than whole grains. Still, the whisky was taxed. Hamilton decided that a tax on domestically distilled spirits would do the trick.

    You can't win in the distilling industry!

  6. Whiskey is aged exclusively in Oak barrels because of the way the Whiskey is "seasoned" in the wood. The wood effects the taste, color and the bite of whiskey.

    Generally, most single malt whiskeys need to age for 12 "seasons". A season is the process in which the whiskey moves in and out of the wood. Different climates, grains, malts, etc. affect the season. Lynchburg, Tennessee was chosen for Jack Daniels distillery in the 19th century because of its climate and the perfect oak that grew in the area. In that region, a "season" is about 4 months long. As such, Jack is aged 4 years so that the whiskey made from sour mash corn moves in and out of the wood 12 times.

    Most Scotch is aged 3-12 years with most mellow distilleries choosing 12. Some scotch is aged even longer. This is because a "season" in Scotland is about a year long so it takes 12 years to get it seasoned just right, depending of course on other factors.

    This was explained to me by a master distiller some years ago and I am just regurgitating it. I do not claim any special knowledge other than I used to sip a lot of Jack Daniels and Scotch back in the day. Not so much anymore.

  7. Some Single malt Scotches are aged to only 10 years.

    Personally, the longer a single malt scotch is aged, the better with around 15 years being the shortest period for a somewhat mellow whisky.

    Also, the age is the minimum amount that the scotch must be aged if the whisky is a blend. So, if it is a blend, of 12, 15, 16, 25 year scotches, the label would read 12 year old.

  8. According to the tour guide at the Woodford Reserve, bourbon rules require the barrels to only be used once if you are going to call your whiskey bourbon. there were 7 or 8 other rules you have to follow, but I don't remember the others. He also noted that Kentucky has most of the bourbon manufacturers because of the naturally low iron water available in the region.

    The Woodford Reserve facility also sends it waste mash to a local farmer to feed his cows. The original "happy cows" according to the tour guide :).

  9. The rules are Bourbon must meet these requirements (Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5)):

    1) Only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon.
    2) Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
    3) Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
    4) Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
    5) Bourbon must be entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
    6) Bourbon, like other whiskeys, must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume.)

    7) Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period, although it must be aged at least briefly. However, the following definitions and requirements apply that relate to aging periods:
    * Bourbon that meets the above requirements, has been aged for a minimum of two years, and has no added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may (but is not required to) be called Straight bourbon.
    * Bourbon that is labeled as Straight that has been aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
    * Bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle (not counting the age of any added neutral grain spirits in a Bourbon that is labeled as Blended, as neutral grain spirits are not considered whiskey under the regulations and are not required to be aged at all).
    8) Bourbon that is labeled as Blended (or as ‘a blend’) may contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits (such as un-aged neutral grain spirits); however, at least 51% of such a product must be Straight Bourbon.

    On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a "distinctive product of the United States." Bourbon may be produced anywhere in the United States where it is legal to distill spirits. However, most brands are produced in Kentucky, where bourbon production has a strong historical association.

  10. Fascinating post and comments, but I get a little nervous when gun owners like FWM start talking so knowledgeably about hard liquor.

  11. I drink what I can afford or whatever somebody else is dumb enough not to finish befoe they go to the loo!:O)

    Actually, I like amragnacs and medium to darkish rums. Costa Rican and Haitian rums are among my preferences, I've never had any cuban rums, but I'm sure they make some dandies.

    I like single malts (and some blends), good bourbons, premium vodkas, high end tequila and whatever else I drink in the way of spirits either neat or with a single ice cube or a few drops of water. I detest frou-frou cocktails; they seem, to me, a waste of good liqour--or an attempt to disguise bad liquor.

  12. As long as they are consuming and shooting at the same time.