PhD student aims to make future of whisky watertight

A University of Aberdeen student is working with whisky producer Chivas Brothers as part of a research project aimed at combating the effects of climate change on distillery water resources.

Jessica Fennell, a PhD student at the University, will work with the firm to identify natural solutions to reduce and manage the impact of water scarcity and rising water temperatures during prolonged warm and dry periods.

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.

It is hoped that through the research, Jessica and Chivas Brothers’ environmental and sustainability team will identify solutions to preserve this key ingredient to the benefit of the entire Scotch whisky industry. 

Throughout the project, Jessica will split her time between the University and The Glenlivet distillery in Moray, where she will complete field research on the water catchment areas and undertake research and development of hydrological models.

This will help to identify the best locations for nature based solutions such as ponds or wetlands for infiltration, or tree planting for shading to manage water flow and temperatures for distilleries.

Jessica said: “I’m really looking forward to starting this PhD project. I’ve always considered myself as being environmentally conscious and believe it is vital for both researchers and those in the industry to work hand in hand to ensure we make good progress in safeguarding important resources, such as water, for the future.

“By working in the field at The Glenlivet distillery, I will be able to really understand how the water catchment works, and hopefully identify the steps distilleries may need to take to make sure they have enough cold water to continue production long into the future.

“In addition, through the support of the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute I will have access to the latest modelling and field equipment to help identify if and where these nature based solutions would be most efficient, thereby hopefully benefitting the industry in the long-term.”

Dr. Josie Geris, Lecturer in Hydrology at the University’s School of Geosciences, and Jessica’s PhD supervisor said: “We are delighted to welcome Jessica to the University of Aberdeen. She’s an exceptional candidate and her enthusiasm for the project really shone through. We’re excited to see what her research will achieve.  She has vast experience in water management, which we’re confident will benefit Chivas Brothers and the wider Scotch whisky industry as we move forward with this exciting research project.”

Gordon Buist, Production Director at Chivas Brothers, added: “Jessica’s appointment marks an important step forward in pioneering this important research. During the project, Jessica will work alongside our experienced environmental and sustainability team to identify and test the effectiveness of novel solutions to manage water flow.

"This will include identifying the best locations to use these techniques, as these will be dependent on the type of soil, ground cover and land gradient. Our ambition is that this research will provide a solid foundation for further development in the future, and will take us – and the wider industry - one step closer to understanding and securing sustainable water resources in the long term.”