From Texas to Tasmania, these seven sustainable whisky distilleries are making the planet a priority in everything they do.
For many, sustainability has moved from an important but abstract idea to a much more urgent priority in recent times. As we face a new relationship with the planet around us, reducing environmental impact has become an growing fascination for individuals and businesses alike. Whisky is no exception and as with many sectors there are early movers looking to lead by example, weaving sustainable processes into the very fabric of their operations.
Nc’Nean Distillery, Scotland
“I would like to see more distilleries attempt to measure their carbon footprint and produce a sustainability report”
Found in the remote location of Drimnin on the west coast of Scotland, Nc’Nean is an independent, organic Scotch whisky distillery and a true pioneer of sustainable distilling practices. From recycled and biodegradable packaging to their use of 100% renewable energy, Nc’Nean’s commitment to sustainability and innovative spirit are truly inspirational. Officially verified as a net-zero distillery, they offset the small number of emissions they do produce with a sustainable forest planting initiative.
The water used in Nc’Nean whisky comes from a spring just behind the distillery, crystal clear and beautifully clean. 80% of the water used in the cooling process comes off the stills, recycled in their natural cooling pond.
Demonstrating their commitment, Nc’Nean has developed a sustainability report to understand the origin of their emissions and how to minimise them. “I would like to see more distilleries attempt to measure their carbon footprint and produce a sustainability report,” said Amy Stammers, Nc’Nean’s Visitor Manager, at the World Whisky Weekender’s sustainability session. “It’s a great opportunity to look at your biggest sources of emissions – not just in your own operations but up and down your supply chain. In attempting to decarbonise, measuring has to be the first step.”
Cardrona Distillery, New Zealand
“Sustainability and buying local are things that consumers are caring more and more about”
Cardrona Distillery is located in the breathtakingly beautiful Cardrona Valley on New Zealand’s South Island. As a relatively young distillery, Cardona founder Desiree Whitaker was lucky to be able to make sustainable choices from the outset.
Sitting in the shadow of Mount Cardrona, the distillery has access to its own spring water source. The bulk of their water use, though high, is borrowed. Once it has passed through the condensers, without coming into contact with the spirit, it can be returned to nature. It also picks up heat energy which is used for underfloor heating during the chilly winter months. Cardrona’s on-site cattle are fed on the distillery’s draff (waste barley).
“Sustainability and buying local are things that consumers are caring more and more about,” said Sarah Elsom, Head Distiller at Cardrona, during the World Whisky Weekender sustainability session. “People want to engage with the process and understand where their spirits come from. It’s so important to create a product that people can believe in.”
Fierce Whiskers, Texas, USA
From their base in Austin, Texas, Fierce Whiskers work by the ethos of ‘Greatness through stubbornness’. This means having patience and always fighting to be the best despite everything that works against them. With whiskey expected to be on sale by 2023, Fierce Whiskers’ goal is to produce an efficient and sustainable spirit without compromising on quality.
Fierce Whiskers are also committed to transparency when it comes to their operations. In 2020, they produced a sustainability report so that consumers can understand the impact of their spirit. The report states that 99% of their grain originates in Texas, and once spent it is donated to local farmers for cattle feed, minimising waste and ensuring reuse.
They also use selected ISC white oak barrels, which ensures that the annual hardwood growth rate is sustainable at 170% of the harvest rate. In 2021, Fierce Whiskers installed solar panels on their building, which will power a third of their energy requirements.
Arbikie Distillery, Scotland
“For us, sustainability is a lot about learning from the past and going back to the way things used to be done,”
At their farm in Arbikie in east Scotland, the Stirling family has been harvesting crops for over 100 years, passing their intuitive understanding of the land down through four generations. When the three Stirling brothers, John, Iain and David, decided to create the Arbikie Distillery in 2014, they knew they wanted to maintain that farmers’ ethos. The brothers adopted a “field to bottle” approach to making whisky.
Producing not only Scotch but gin and vodka, too, all of Arbikie’s spirits are produced with ingredients grown on their land. The barley for their whisky is grown organically on-site, with the draff fed to the resident cattle. The manure enhances soil productivity on their land to grow more organic ingredients – truly a circular economy!
“For us, sustainability is a lot about learning from the past and going back to the way things used to be done,” said Iain Stirling of Arbikie, explaining their practices during the sustainability session at the World Whisky Weekender. “It can be so simple. We’re constantly learning and we’re not going to keep that knowledge to ourselves. We’re going to share that information because we want the industry to move on.”
Belgrove Distillery, Tasmania, Australia
Spent mash becomes feed for Belgrove’s resident sheep. Cooling water comes from the on-site dam and wastewater is either recycled or used for irrigation
Producing Australia’s first rye whisky, Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania is truly unique and a fantastic example of a closed-loop whisky operation. Described by Jim Murray as “liquid gold”, the product is made with 100% rye corn, grown on-site.
Founder Peter Bignell (pictured) built his copper pot still from scratch. It is direct-fired with biofuel made from cooking oil sourced from the roadhouse cafe next door to the farm. In fact, everything on site is powered by this biofuel, from the hot water to the tractors.
The spent mash becomes feed for Belgrove’s resident sheep. Cooling water comes from the on-site dam and wastewater is either recycled or used for irrigation, including the next rye crop, while brewing and diluting water is harvested from the roofs.
Belgrove prides itself on taking nothing in but fuel and producing nothing but superb rye whisky. With the rave reviews the spirit has received since its foundation in 2008, the distillery is a true testament to just how sustainable whisky can be.
Ardnamurchan Distillery, Scotland
“We are simply following what we believe is the lightest touch approach to distilling in our remote location.”
Dubbed “Scotland’s Greenest Distillery”, Ardnamurchan Distillery is also a contender for the most remote. Found on the most westerly peninsula of the British mainland, the site is surrounded by lush woodlands, vast sandy beaches and ancient mountains. Ardnamurchan’s approach to sustainability is a simple one, inspired and supported by the beautiful natural environment that surrounds them.
They believe that as whisky is a ‘natural product’, the methods of its production should be just as natural. All of Ardnamurchan’s heat and power comes from local renewables: a biomass boiler fuelled by woodchip from local forestry, and hydroelectricity gathered from a nearby river, which also provides the distillery’s cooling water.
The Ardnamurchan Single Malt whisky box is made from 100% recycled material, the first in the industry. To avoid waste, the draff byproduct from the whisky production is used to produce feed for animals on the peninsula.
Alex Bruce, Managing Director said: “We are simply following what we believe is the lightest touch approach to distilling in our remote location, including adding value to co-products and empowering a realistic and tangible circular economy.”
Marble Distilling Co, Colorado, USA
Marble estimates that they save 4 million gallons of water and 14,000lbs of energy every year.
In Carbondale, Colorado, nestled at the base of the Elk Mountains, lies Marble Distilling Co. The distillery produces not just whiskey but vodka, gingercello and coffee liqueur, too. With the motto “Drink sustainably”, Marble’s approach to eco-friendly practices is truly pioneering and encompasses every aspect from their on-site heating to their locally-made equipment.
100% of their process water is recaptured and energy is harvested from the distillation process to heat the premises. Marble estimates that they save 4 million gallons of water and 14,000lbs of energy every year. All grains are locally sourced and waste product feeds animals on local Carbondale ranches.
Marble also boasts two stylish bars and an on-site Distillery Inn in the heart of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, where guests can enjoy a night of luxury and learn about the art of distillation.