Sustainability For Distilleries And Breweries – where do you start?


Whisky, beer and gin sectors have changed a lot in Scotland and the UK in the last few years. Markets that used to be dominated by a few large producers have now diversified and smaller producers have been springing up all over Scotland. As customer tastes and market demands have evolved, local craft breweries and smaller gin and whisky distilleries have been quick to set up and create new tastes and brands.

Over 1.3billion bottles of whisky are shipped from Scotland each year. There are now 133 operating whisky distilleries, around 60 gin distilleries and over 120 breweries in Scotland. (Source data: from the Scotch Whisky Association, Office of National Statistics and Scottish Parliament)

Being relatively small, many of these new producers often have more flexibility to try out new products, invent new flavours and run small batches of speciality beers and spirits. At the same time, we are finding that many of these businesses are forward-thinking with their production operations and are keen to make sure they use raw materials and energy as efficiently as possible.

We have worked with several clients in these sectors recently, all the way from the central belt and Speyside, up to Caithness and the Outer Hebrides. 

What does sustainability for distilleries and breweries look like?

Energy and raw materials are by far the biggest operating costs for both breweries and distilleries, and even though the basic production principles have remained unchanged for tens or even hundreds of years, there are always new opportunities to improve the efficiency of raw material, water and energy uses.

Decorative image of distilling equipment

We recently helped a new craft whisky and gin distillery identify potential energy savings worth around £27,000 per year; that will also help them reduce emissions by around 47tCO2e (tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions) and the measures will provide a simple payback on investment of around 3 years.

The demands for heating, and often cooling, at many stages in production, mean that heat recovery is often a viable option and can provide excellent energy savings and good payback periods. Extracting heat from liquids after mashing, boiling and distillation vessels means the energy can be fed back into earlier stages in the production process; used to pre-heat boiler feed-water; or even redirected to provide space heating in offices and visitor centres.

Renewable energy technologies are also something that many of these businesses are keen to explore and we have provided guidance and feasibility studies for solar PV, small wind, biomass and heat pump systems in the past. There are some great opportunities for these new and innovative companies to future-proof their energy uses and generate their own power – both to reduce their products’ carbon emissions and also the reliance on ever-more expensive energy from the electricity grid or gas networks.

Further up the supply chain, we have just started working with some malt producers to help them with their energy efficiency and renewable energy options.

How can we help you?

Through government-funded, free support programmes like Zero Waste Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Business Support Service, we have recently helped many breweries and distilleries to identify significant resource and cost savings with practical measures that have been costed and carefully considered to ensure production and quality is maintained.

There is also financial support available to small and medium-sized businesses to implement energy saving and renewable heat technologies through the Scottish Government’s SME Loan Fund – providing up to £100,000 of investment as an interest-free loan and recently also including up to £20,000 in cashback. We would be happy to talk you through the assistance process and help you access the funding. Please contact us if you would like more information.

Photo of a pint of beer

We’re also not averse to sampling some of these tasty products ourselves – all in the name of sector research, obviously. Cheers!