The Cost of a Wee Dram for St Andrew’s  Day

November 30th is St. Andrew’s day, the patron saint of Scotland, so we thought it would be interesting to investigate the environmental impact of whisky . This is not meant to put you off having a dram, just to get you thinking.


In 2012, 285,000 hectares of land was used to grow malting barley in Scotland primarily for use by the whisky industry. We could ask if this is a good use of our land and should we be using it to grow crops instead? Whilst many of us enjoy a drop of whisky, let’s be honest, and whilst some friends of mine might disagree (!), it is not vital to survival -unlike food.

In 2011 1.15 million tonnes of grain were grown globally for whisky. This requires inputs of pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and possibly water if there is not enough rain. Fuel is needed for the machinery to apply all these inputs and sow, harvest and transport the grain.


Islay Whisky’s are famous for their peaty flavour. This is obtained by roasting the barley over burning peat sourced locally from the islands peat bogs. Recent research has shown that the peat on Islay is not as deep as was thought and may run out by the 2020s.  Some distilleries have found other ways to get the peaty flavour.

Peat is also very good at locking up carbon so by digging it up and burning it, not only is that carbon released to the atmosphere but the capacity to absorb carbon is lost too


There is energy used to boil the mash and distil the alcohol. Bringing 1L of water to the boil produces approximately 60g  CO2e. It is then stored in oak casks, these are usually reused. New casks are made with oak from sustainable sources.


An average sized whisky bottle produces about 330g  CO2e in its manufacture.


Glass weighs a lot so it is relatively carbon intensive to transport by road but is not too bad if it is shipped so don’t worry about where your whisky (or ‘whiskey’ from some countries!) comes from ..


It’s not all bad. Speyside distilleries send their spent grain to make heat and generate electricity.

If you are a manufacturer and would like to know the carbon footprint of your product we are able to do life cycle analysis, email us at or ring 01746 552423.


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