I love seeing the world creep toward the desire for planetary health. I get excited when industries put “going green” into practice. I get extra goosebumpy when it’s an industry that I monetarily support. There’s a smidgen of smugness I allow myself when pouring a dram from a distillery that I know is not only incorporating the past into each bottle, but building a better future while they’re at it.
During the past two weeks, I’ve written about some of the whisky industry’s co-products:
- Draff–the spent grains remaining in the mash tun after all the juicy sugars and starches have been removed, and a product often used as livestock feed.
- Pot ale–the high protein, liquid residue from fermented wort remaining in the still after the first distillation, often either used as a fertilizer or boiled down to a syrup (and also utilized as livestock feed).
- Spent lees–the remaining wash and coppery residue (from cleaning the still and other pieces of equipment) which have no commercial value, but must undergo treatment before it is disposed of.
Some of these you may have already known about. Maybe you’re just learning about them for the first time. Some of you might be thinking this is a good time to get up and make a sandwich.
If you’re still with me, another co-product, which often goes by unnoticed except to those in the industry, is heat. There’s more than your average bucketful. Some is generated from the need to heat the stills for distillation. Some is in the form of warm waste water, leftovers from condensing the spirit vapors back into liquid form. And some breeds from the guy in the break room who’s shouting at his coworkers for using up the last bit of milk for tea.
One way of utilizing the heat created in the distillation process is to recycle it back to the malting floors. Those beautiful barley grains need hot air in order to be dried and toasted before gaining entrance into the mash tons for steeping, and the heat generated from the hot stills is a viable, smart method utilizing green technology ideas. It’s a little bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul, except Peter doesn’t need his excesses. It’s distillery socialism.
Bowmore kindly hands over its distillery’s surplus warmth to a local public swimming pool. Some newer distilleries are fulfilling their needs for both heating and cooling by incorporating geothermal ground loops. A loop of pipe in the ground can not only dump excess heat created by the distillery, it can access that heat energy and utilize it for the distillation process. Renewable energy makes people remarkably happy. Especially when they see their remarkably reduced energy bills.
For a little while, Glen Garioch pumped the heat from their still fires into greenhouses near the still house to grow big beautiful tomatoes. Old Pulteney gives back to the community in the form of a warm home to return to after a hard day’s work in Wick. They pump their surplus thermal heat into over 1500 local homes. The North British Distillery keeps young bodies and brains ablaze by gifting their overabundance of heat to local Tynecastle High School across the road.
There have even been a few studies performed to determine whether or not salmon and trout can actually benefit from an uptick in temperature in their watery world. Stay tuned.
And stay informed.
It’s marvelous to know so much about the things we love, and even more marvelous to know that through our affection, we’re helping distilleries to make the world a marvelously lovely place.