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Issue 61 - Giving a Little Back

Scotland Magazine Issue 61
February 2012

 

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Giving a Little Back

Joel Harrison heads to Glengoyne Distillery to report on a new project

Situated a mere stone’s throw north of the Lowland / Highland border, the Glengoyne Distillery (officially a Highland single malt despite its warehousing opposite in the Lowlands) has a new, green project which is about to really take off.

Scotch whisky has always been viewed as an artisanal product, with single malt whisky being made from just three ingredients: water, barley and yeast. This ancient process of brewing and distillation is first mentioned British records as far back as 1495 in the Royal Exchequer Rolls, where Friar John Corr is named as the purchaser of barley ‘wherewith to make aqua vitae’.

Since then, the process has changed little, save for technological advances making the manufacture of single malt more economical and with a greater degree of consistency.

A major development in the whisky industry over the last decade has been the concept of environmentally friendly production; making sure that, alongside the use of all natural ingredients, the distillery leaves no trace when it comes to waste products and impact on the land, from which it so generously draws the barley and water needed for production.

One such advance on this front is that many distilleries now feature a heat recovery system, whereby the energy generated from yeast working to turn sugars into alcohol can be captured and used in other areas of the distilling operation. This is a very clever development which helps to balance out the environmental impact of the distillery on its surrounding area, while at the same time saving the distillers’ time and additional energy expenditure. At Glengoyne Distillery, the most southerly of the Highland whisky producers, development has been rapidly put in place to ensure that, as well as having a positive impact on those who drink its produce, it is also respecting the environment in which it lies. However there is more to the plans at Glengoyne than meets the eye; situated in a wooded valley in the Highlands of Scotland, close to a small river that flows into the famous Loch Lomond, the independent, Scottish, family owned parent company, Ian Macleod Distillers, have been keen to underscore the heritage and tradition of the Glengoyne name, taken from “Glen Guin” or Glen of the Wild Geese.

To embrace this, the distillery has formed an exclusive partnership with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), celebrating the official opening of a brand new wetlands area at the distillery, in July. This wetlands area is a by product of a new, £170k investment at Glengoyne which organically deals with the effluent from the spirit stills, known as spent lees, which are traditionally taken away from a distillery in tankers to be neutralised and disposed of elsewhere.

In May, a series of reed beds were built alongside Glengoyne’s main warehousing, opposite the distillery. The spent lees is removed from the spirit still and slowly released into the first of the reed beds, which are constructed in terrace formation.

As it it trickles down through the roots, the liquid is cleansed and slowly converted into clean water.

Moving from reed bed to reed bed, the excess product is monitored for neutrality before finally settling in a lower field, creating the new wetland area. This process will reduce waste at the distillery by around 25 per cent, dealing with the spent lees in an environmentally friendly manner; a significant move which will not only help with processing distillery waste, but will provide a haven for wildlife in the area.

Glengoyne Distillery’s manager, Robbie Hughes comments: “We are always looking at options for improving our waste management and wetlands seemed like the perfect solution. It allows us to reduce waste, cut down on waste transportation, be more environmentally friendly and will attract a huge range of wildlife to the area, which is already renowned for its geese.” The WWT will be involved in monitoring this new mini-wetland centre. John Creedon, WWT’s Corporate Relations Manager said “New wetlands like this quickly become home to moths and beetles and even water voles, which in turn start to support and attract birds and potentially larger mammals like otters.” Further links shall be forged between Glengoyne and the WWT at their Wetland Centre in Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire. Located south of the distillery on the border with England, Caerlaverlock Wetland Centre covers 587 hectares and is home to tens of thousands of Barnacle Geese, who fly there each year from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard where they spend the summer breeding.

The WWT was founded in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott when he recorded the population of wild Barnacle Geese to be as low as around 500. The formation of the Caerlaverlock Wetland Centre, which was opened in 1971, has allowed that population to swell in number to more than 30,000. With such a commitment to wild geese, it seems only right that a distillery named “Glen of the Wild Geese” in Gaelic, should be supporting their wildfowl neighbours.

The centre at Caerlaverlock is home to more than 130 different species of wildfowl as well as other wonderful wildlife. From otters to owls, natterjack toads to nesting ducks, Caerlaverlock is one of the best places in Scotland to view nature at its finest. From October until early spring, visitors can watch the Barnacle Geese flocking from the night time safety of the mudflats to their day time feeding areas in long grass and lakes. As the sun rises, the birds mass together, silhouetted by the dawn sun, moving overhead as loudly as a passing train, their squawking filling the air like a thousand vuvuzelas in the football World Cup final.

The mixture of fresh air, sunrise and a closeness to nature creates a truly memorable experience; the autumnal chill beaten away by your choice of the largest number of hides in a nature reserve in Scotland. Try the same in the evening, as the geese make their way out to the mudflats, seeking cover from predators such as foxes. However, this time with a dram of Glengoyne in your hipflask; the only chills you’ll experience are the ones running down your spine.

To add to this burgeoning ‘special relationship’ The Glengoyne has pledged a further minimum commitment of £5,000 to the WWT during the next 12 months. This money will be raised through contributions from sales of special bottles of The Glengoyne, where £3.00 on all personalised bottles and £4.50 on all standard bottles of the core range, purchased online using a special code available to WWT members, will apply.

With more than 200,000 members, this initiative could raise a lot more for the nine wetland centres under WWT governance.

Discount on WWT membership and joint events will also be hosted in celebration of this partnership. However, it’s not just birdwatchers and nature lovers who should be interested in this relationship; single malt fans and collectors alike should take note, as this partnership will also see limited edition bottling being released, so keep an eye out for those.