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Issue 29 - Waste not, want not

Whisky Magazine Issue 29
March 2003


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Waste not, want not

Gavin D. Smith takes a look at the by-products of whisky-making, and where they end up

As whisky consumers, we give a great deal of thought to what goes into our drink, but very little thought to what does not. Yet were it not for effective management of the by-products of distilling, the Scotch whisky industry as we know it today could not survive.

Distillers tend to wear their environmental credentials on their sleeves, which is hardly surprising in an era when the public relations mileage in being seen to be green is considerable. And malt distillers are surely justified in boasting about making a product using only malt, water and yeast as raw materials, and about their commitment to recycling by-products where possible and disposing of waste responsibly.

Traditionally, whisky distilling was practised on farms in Scotland as a way of converting barley into a more durable and value added product, while spare grain was also fed to the cattle along with draff from distilling.

The cattle fertilised the fields where grain was grown, and pot ale was spread on the land as additional fertiliser. Today, ‘good housekeeping' practices in the distilling industry mean that draff and pot ale continue to have agricultural uses, despite the old farming/whisky-making cycle having been broken by the development of commercial distilling.

Pollution control in Britain is commonly perceived as a post-Second World War phenomenon, but as long ago as 1876 the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act was passed, giving local authorities the power to launch proceedings against offenders...

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