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Dams could help Scotch in heatwaves

The Glenlivet is part of a research project looking into whether building dams could prevent Scotch whisky distilleries from closing during dry spells and heatwaves.

The Glenlivet Distillery stills
The Glenlivet has installed small dams near the Speyside distillery

The Chivas Brothers-owned Scotch whisky distillery is working with researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the James Hutton Institute. Together, they are investigating sustainable solutions to tackle water shortages and protect whisky production.

As part of the project, small dams were installed into the landscape at the Moray-based distillery to capture water during wet periods. The aim of the scheme is to help prevent the distillery from closing during dry periods.

The heatwave in July 2022 saw temperatures soar across Scotland, and this is expected to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

Many producers were forced to temporarily stop distilling in recent summers because of water shortages, costing the industry millions, the university study noted.

During the dry summer of 2018, groundwater supplies to The Glenlivet distillery dwindled and did not replenish until the following spring.

Dr Josie Geris, from the university’s School of Geosciences, who supervised the project, said the move offered a “cost-effective” eco-friendly approach to water resource management.

The project was led by PhD student Jessica Fennell, who had a whisky created by The Glenlivet in her honour.

Fennell explained: “Our results found that the features we installed will have a small but positive impact that could help increase water availability during periods of water scarcity and reduce flood peaks during high rainfall. Crucially, this could prevent the distillery closing during dry periods which has a significant cost impact.

“Because these measures enhance groundwater recharge, and groundwater contribution to streams, our research has also raised the possibility of positive implications for water temperature.

“This is important because distilleries require cool water and groundwater is typically colder than surface water during summer.”

Benefit for Scotch sector

Dr Ronald Daalmans, environmental sustainability manager at Pernod Ricard’s Scotch whisky arm Chivas Brothers, added: “Our aim is to ensure all our distilleries operate within the local capacity of their catchment to provide water, particularly during low flows.

“This research has indicated that the land within the catchment could be used to help mitigate the impacts of climate change on water availability.

“This is important for the long-term viability of the distillery, but could also benefit the entire Scotch whisky industry, especially in upland areas. We intend to continue monitoring the effect of the measures on water availability at this site over the long term.”

In June, The Glenlivet evolved its 21- and 25-year-old whiskies with new double and triple cask finishes.

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