Nothing beats sipping a glass of smooth, smokey whisky as the summer sun sets below the horizon, the warmth of the day mixing with the perfume of the drink. Have you ever considered how these hotter summers can change the spirit in your glass even though our climate is changing and temperatures are rising? The relationship between whisky and the weather is significantly more complicated than one may think.
Climate’s Importance in the Distillation Process
The production of whisky is a complex dance of natural and scientific processes. The process starts with barley, yeast, and water, but the final personality and amount of complexity of the spirit are determined by a multitude of factors, one of which is climate.
Throughout most of the industry’s history, distilleries have traditionally been located in nations with year-round temperate temperatures, such as Scotland and Ireland. The maturation process is greatly impacted by the temperature and humidity levels found in specific geographic places. According to Dr. James Swan, a whisky expert, “the climate is fundamental in determining the maturation reaction rates.” The atmosphere inside the warehouse, where the casks are stored, is the site’s macroclimate modified by the structure’s microclimate.
The Influence of Heat on Fermentation and Maturation
Then, how does heat enter the picture? To understand this, we must look at the many stages of whisky production. Higher temperatures can hasten the production process in the early phases, especially during the malting and fermentation processes. This, though, can sometimes happen too soon. As a result, the completed product may have undesirable flavors and attributes.
In a previous interview, former Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell noted, “The yeast does not simply shut off when it is done fermenting; rather, it goes into survival mode.” If the temperature rises too high and the yeast becomes stressed, it can produce some unusual flavors.
When it comes to puberty, the plot gets a little more complicated. Whisky is aged in oak barrels, and the majority of the flavor character of the whisky develops during this process. The temperature and humidity both influence how the whisky and oak interact with one another. In regions like Kentucky, where the summers are hot, the heat causes the pores of the oak barrels to open up more, allowing the whisky to penetrate deeper into the wood. This procedure has the propensity to infuse the whisky with rich flavors, which contributes to the bold and robust personality of bourbon, which is mostly produced in the state of Kentucky.
On the other side, too much heat can hasten the evaporation process, which is also known as the “angel’s share.” While some evaporation is normal and even desirable because it concentrates flavor, excessive evaporation can result in overly oaky flavors and limit the amount of whisky left in the bottle. This is because high evaporation reduces the amount of whisky remaining in the bottle.
The Whisky Industry’s Temperature Control
Distilleries are aware of the effects that warmer summers have on whisky production and are making adjustments accordingly. A considerable number of businesses are attempting to mitigate the impact of climate change on their operations. According to Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling at Glenmorangie, the importance of having access to water is highlighted, especially during the hot summer months. “At Glenmorangie, we are fortunate to have Tarlogie Springs as our water source. However, during the hot, dry summers, the water levels can reach dangerously low, causing the whisky manufacturing to halt.”
The production of whisky requires both art and science, and the changing nature of the climate adds another variable to an already intricate equation. In a world where summers are becoming hotter and weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable, the whisky industry will undoubtedly need to be imaginative and flexible in the next years to develop viable production procedures.
The Distilling Business and Climate Change Adaptation
The relationship between distilleries and climate change is tricky, but it is becoming increasingly important. As the climate changes, whisky distillers must find new ways to innovate and adapt to maintain the distinct flavor and excellent quality of their goods. Increasing temperatures offer a challenge for distilleries during the production of whisky, so this book will provide an in-depth overview of the various strategies that distilleries adopt to overcome this challenge.
Making Changes to the Production Schedule
To combat the heat, a lot of distilleries have adjusted their production schedules. The excessive heat of summer can hasten both the fermentation and maturation processes, resulting in disagreeable tasting qualities. To overcome this, some distilleries, such as Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark, opt for a seasonal production plan. This moves their principal output to the cooler months of the year, allowing them to avoid the summer’s highest temperatures.
Investing in Climate-Control Measures
Investing in climate control equipment is typically a viable option for larger-capacity distilleries. Because distilleries regulate the atmosphere within their maturation warehouses, they can keep the temperature and humidity levels within their maturation warehouses at the right levels for aging whisky regardless of the weather outside. The Scottish distillery Macallan is a notable example of this since it uses a cutting-edge cooling system to keep its storage facilities at the proper temperature.
Looking into Different Types of Barrels
The way whisky reacts to temperature variations is also greatly influenced by the type of barrel used in the maturation process. Even during the hottest months of the year, several distilleries are investigating the use of different types of barrels that are less sensitive to heat. This would allow the aging process to be more gradual.
Efforts Made in the Interest of Water Conservation
Water is an important resource in the manufacturing of whisky because it’s used as an ingredient and in cooling systems. Many distilleries are starting to adopt water conservation to prepare for the likelihood of water shortages during the hot and dry summer months. Glenmorangie, for example, decreases its reliance on the Tarlogie Springs, which supply its water supply, by recycling the water used in its cooling systems.
Accepting The Reality of The Situation
Certain distilleries see the changing environment as a challenge as well as an opportunity to create new whisky flavors that are truly unique. Some distilleries, such as Bruichladdich on Islay, regard the changing temperatures and weather patterns as an opportunity to experiment and create whiskies that truly reflect the place in which they are made.