The climate researchers found that impending heat and drought stress caused by global heating could drastically impact the volume and quality of spring barley in Scotland. 800,000 tonnes are required annually in Scotch whisky production, and a reduction in yield, as seen in 2018, could cost the industry up to £27 million a year.
With a decline in summer rainfall of up to 18% and a 2.0˚ C annual rise in temperature by 2080, they also found that summer droughts, which halted production at many distilleries across Islay, Perthshire, and Speyside in 2018, would likely occur with much greater frequency going forward.
Climate change in the next 50-100 years could also threaten to alter the flavour profile of whisky in Scotland, one of the country’s main exports and a product beloved the world over. Stages of its production, including malting, fermentation, distillation, and maturation, have all been developed to suit the temperate maritime climate of the area. Warmer air and water temperatures, the report found, would all have the potential to lead to inefficient cooling in traditional distilleries, creating challenges for conserving the character, consistency, and quality of the liquid.
Carole Roberts, lead author of the report and climate change researcher at University College London, said, “There’s an assumption that Scotland is wet, rainy place with a constant water supply. Climate change is changing when and where it rains, and this will create shortages and change the character of the water – effecting our favourite drams – so planning is essential to protect our whisky.”
Commissioned by Glengoyne Distillery, the report comes as the brand announces the launch of a special new release, The Wetlands Single Cask, recognising the distillery’s ongoing relationship with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), which began in 2011. In that year, the distillery became the first to adopt a wetlands facility for liquid waste, with a percentage of profits going directly to continue the climate emergency work being done by the conservation charity.
Wetlands can help drastically slow down climate change, storing twice as much carbon as all the world’s rainforests combined – but they too are under considerable threat from climate change. Thus, the distillery and brand will increase their support of WWT’s initiatives as part of a broader partnership that will, for the next 3 years, be focused on supporting the protection of Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock, as well as taking part in WWT’s Blue Recovery, which aims to create 100,000 hectares of healthy wetlands across Scotland.
Professor Mark Maslin, a climate change professor at University College London who worked on the report, commented, “The work Glengoyne is doing to reduce their carbon emissions and protect whisky production from climate change is essential. But the whisky industry is just one fish in a big pond, and we need government support, investment, and infrastructure for all of us to be net zero emissions as soon as possible.”