Nicola Sturgeon mulls green crackdown for Scottish malt

·3 min read

Nicola Sturgeon could embark on a new green crackdown of Scotland’s whisky industry, over fears that emissions from the “angel’s share” of casks is harming the environment and human health.

Every year, around two per cent of whisky, the so-called “angel’s share” because it evaporates during the maturation process, is lost during its production.

But SNP and Green ministers are concerned that the emissions could be having a detrimental impact on the environment and health, and want to find out whether action should be taken to reduce the damage.

It is funding a review of the harm caused by the non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) that arise from malt whisky maturation, which have surged over recent years due to the rising international popularity of Scotland’s national drink.

Researchers have been asked to suggest possible “mitigation strategies” for “controlling” whisky-related emissions, leading to a backlash from the industry.

“Some loss of spirit from casks during maturation is a natural part of the whisky-making process,” a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said.

“Losses of ethanol average around two per cent per year and, as the Scottish Government has previously stated, is neither harmful to health nor impactful on the environment due to its rapid dispersal.”

He added: “While spirit evaporation is an important contributor to the final character of the whisky, the Scotch whisky industry continues to invest in research as well as work with Sepa [the Scottish Environment Protection Agency] and other regulators to improve efficiency and minimise the amount that evaporates from the cask.”

In a public notice seeking a researcher to review possible harms from whisky emissions, the Scottish Government said it wanted to find out “whether this contribution is likely to be sufficient to generate significant health or environmental impacts”.

Budget of £15,000 to £20,000

The six-month project has been allocated a budget of between £15,000 and £20,000, and a final report is to be submitted by the end of March next year.

It will consist of a review of existing evidence, with the government notice stating that the project “will not require any new research or other work”.

Nicola Sturgeon’s Government has repeatedly attempted to present itself as tough on climate change, with the First Minister reversing her previous support for further exploration of North Sea oil and gas.

The SNP has even signed a power-sharing pact with the Scottish Greens at Holyrood. However, her Government has struggled to hit its targets for cutting emissions.

Ariane Burgess, the Scottish Green MSP said the review was “very welcome”.

“If we are to hit our net zero targets then we all need to think about our carbon footprint and how we can reduce our emissions, and that applies to all our industries,” she told Scotland on Sunday.

“Our whisky is iconic and recognised around the world. This research will be important in determining the source of these emissions and how they can be minimised in future.”

Two thirds of emissions from whisky

The Scottish Government said that the whisky industry contributes close to 50 per cent of the total NMVOC emissions in Scotland.

The UK Government has said that while NMVOC emissions have fallen drastically over recent decades, they have increased in the food and drink sector, with whisky manufacture accounting for two thirds of the total in that area.

In contrast, animal feed accounts for 12 per cent and bread baking seven per cent.

The Scottish Government said that while there was a good understanding of general health and environmental impacts of NMVOCs, “relatively little” was known about those specifically caused as a result of whisky production.

A spokesman said: “Last year, we published our updated air quality strategy, setting out how Scotland can achieve the best air quality in Europe.

“To support that, we are commissioning a review of the available evidence on the health and environmental impacts of NMVOC emissions, including an assessment of the emissions from malt whisky maturation.

“Scotland’s whisky industry is extremely valuable to our economy and we recognise the sector’s commitment to good environmental practices.”