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Issue 138 - Spent Grain and Pot Ale

Whisky Magazine Issue 138
September 2016


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Spent Grain and Pot Ale

A potential for food production?

It is no secret that whisky production is not an environmentally friendly enterprise. While distilleries increasingly focus on improving sustainability, implementing better practices in relation to CO² emissions, efficient energy and water sourcing, the volume of waste generated by the actual production process is often overlooked. The Scotch Whisky Association's Statistical Report noted that in the production of 275 million litres of pure alcohol produced by the industry in 2013 the industry consumed 1.59 million tonnes of grain, 52 billion litres of water and 7,700 tonnes of yeast. Most of these raw materials do not make it in to the bottle. A head-spinning array of by-products resulted: 528,000 tonnes draff, 885,000 tonnes of pot ale, 361,000 tonnes spent lees, 32,000 tonnes of pot ale syrup (concentrated at a ratio of 10:1) and 254,000 tonnes of distillers' dark grains.

At one time in Scotland it was common practice to discharge some of these by-products into the sea or rivers, but various pieces of environmental legislation put an end to this practice (although some coastal distilleries still retain rights to dispose of pot ale this way). Subsequently, effluent was routinely spread on farming land, but distillers continued to seek a sustainable method of dispatching the large volume of by-product. For the best part of the last century pot ale has been concentrated into a syrup and used to enrich soil, and spent grain was given to farmers local to the distillery, or tur...

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