Ministers to review whether 'Angels' Share' of whisky harms environment

It is known as the Angels’ Share. Every year, around 2 per cent of Scotland’s national drink evaporates during its crucial maturation process.

Now ministers want to review whether such emissions from Scotland's flourishing whisky industry are generating "significant health or environmental impacts".

The Scottish Government said emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) from malt whisky maturation increased by 54 per cent between 2005 and 2019 as the sector expanded.

However, it said "relatively little is known about the impacts of this specific source".

The Scottish Government wants to review the environmental impact of malt whisky maturation

NMVOC emissions from whisky production are in the form of ethanol, and the vast majority occur during the maturation stage, when the whisky ages in oak casks.

The evaporation of spirit during this phase is viewed as a natural and important part of the whisky making process.

The Scottish Government said the industry as a whole contributes close to 50 per cent of the total NMVOC emissions in Scotland.

An official contract posting reads: “Although total emissions remain low despite this increase, the nature of the industry means that emissions arise from a large number of diffuse point sources, each source contributing a very small amount to the overall total.

"Although there is good evidence on the general human health and environmental impacts of NMVOCs, relatively little is known about the impacts of this specific source and whether these recent increases are sufficient to generate any significant health or environmental impacts.”

The Government is now commissioning a review of the available evidence on “general human health and environmental impacts of NMVOCs" and the specific contribution from malt whisky maturation.

It wants researchers to “provide an assessment of whether this contribution is likely to be sufficient to generate significant health or environmental impacts” and to “suggest any potential mitigation strategies for controlling these emissions”.

The six-month project has a budget of between £15,000 and £20,000, and a final report is to be submitted by the end of March next year.

Green MSP Ariane Burgess said the review was “very welcome”, adding: “If we are to hit our net-zero targets then we all need to think about our carbon footprint and how we can reduce our emissions, and that applies to all our industries.

“Our whisky is iconic and recognised around the world. This research will be important in determining the source of these emissions and how they can be minimised in future.”

A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “Some loss of spirit from casks during maturation is a natural part of the whisky making process.

"Losses of ethanol average around 2 per cent per year and, as the Scottish Government has previously stated, is neither harmful to health nor impactful on the environment due to its rapid dispersal.

“While spirit evaporation is an important contributor to the final character of the whisky, the Scotch whisky industry continues to invest in research as well as work with SEPA [the Scottish Environment Protection Agency] and other regulators to improve efficiency and minimise the amount that evaporates from the cask.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Last year, we published our updated air quality strategy, setting out how Scotland can achieve the best air quality in Europe.

"To support that, we are commissioning a review of the available evidence on the health and environmental impacts of NMVOC emissions, including an assessment of the emissions from malt whisky maturation.

“Scotland’s whisky industry is extremely valuable to our economy and we recognise the sector’s commitment to good environmental practices.”

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