A dram good idea - research to tackle effects of climate change on Scotch whisky

The University of Aberdeen is teaming up with a major Scotch whisky business to combat the effects of climate change on distillery water resources.

Chivas Brothers has announced £4000 in funding for a four-year Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) industrial studentship, to help identify natural solutions to reduce the impact of water scarcity and rising water temperatures during prolonged warm and dry periods.

The partnership will offer one PhD student the opportunity to complete field research on the water catchment areas at The Glenlivet distillery in Moray, to test the effectiveness of novel solutions to manage water flow.

The Scotch whisky industry critically depends on a sustainable and good quality water supply - pure Scottish mineral water is one of three ingredients used in the malting, mashing and cooling processes and also when diluting the spirit to reduce its alcoholic strength to the desired level.  This research aims to identify solutions to preserve this key ingredient. 

The student will become an integral part of Chivas Brothers’ environmental sustainability team and receive a full range of training including a course on distillation processes and distillery water requirements.

Research and development of mathematical models to help identify the best locations to manage water flow for other distilleries will be carried out at the University, with the support of the James Hutton Institute.

Dr. Josie Geris, Lecturer in Hydrology at the School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, said:

“We are pleased to be working with Chivas Brothers and the James Hutton Institute. This project provides a unique opportunity for a research student to gain real world experience out in the field and identify solutions that will greatly benefit the whisky industry in the long term.”

Gordon Buist, Production Director at Chivas Brothers, said: “There are three ingredients that go into creating a single malt Scotch whisky – malted barley, yeast and water – and each is incredibly important to developing the depth of flavour and quality unique to The Glenlivet.  By supporting this key research we hope to improve water management strategies, to the benefit of the entire Scotch whisky industry. 

“As part of the project, we will support the student by providing them with the opportunity to work with our experienced environmental and sustainability team at The Glenlivet distillery, including access to a wide range of training, expertise and laboratory facilities.”