Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The Scotch Whisky Research Institute


  1.  The Scotch Whisky Research Institute is the Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) for the UK distilled drinks industry. It is an independent company (limited by guarantee) with member companies paying annual fees as well as for particular services. The Institute provides an independent centre of scientific excellence dedicated to the needs of the Industry. Its aim is to assist its member companies in improving their products and processes, and maintaining Scotch Whisky's position on world markets.

  2.  Sited on the Research Park of Heriot-Watt University, the SWRI houses facilities for work on all areas of spirit manufacture. Its highly trained staff are qualified in a wide range of subjects, including chemistry, biology, food technology and sensory analysis. They are also experts in Scotch Whisky and its production.

  3.  The Institute's aims can be summarised as follows:

    —  maintaining and improving product quality;

    —  safeguarding product integrity;

    —  adding value by enhancing the use of raw materials and improving manufacturing processes; and

    —  providing the understanding to facilitate beneficial changes in manufacturing processes.

  4.  The Institute works closely with Universities, other research facilities, and Scotch Whisky Companies. It is able to carry out joint pre-competitive research on behalf of all its members as well as specific projects for single companies. Its laboratories are UKAS accredited to ensure the highest quality in all services.



  5.  Last year (1999) was an average production year for the Scotch Whisky Industry with about the equivalent of 400 million litres of pure alcohol being produced. At the heart of productions lies an essentially craft production methodology defined by a tight definition of Scotch Whisky. This illustrates the central problem of production—how to maintain large production figures using modern technology that interfaces successfully with the craft practices at the core of production. Not only this but to do it competitively given the world wide markets for Scotch Whisky where other distilled drinks manufacturers do not have such self imposed manufacturing restrictions. Production success has been gained by ensuring the supply of high standard raw materials, processing them as efficiently as possible into Scotch Whisky and continually monitoring the quality of the finished whisky products. The long term success of the production side of the Industry will rely on maintaining and improving these three activities.

Raw Materials

  6.  The whole of Scotch Whisky production relies on the supply of reasonably priced cereals. The industry takes about a third of all the barley used in the UK (the other major users being brewing and animal feeds). The supply of new higher yielding varieties has been critical to the increase of production over these years. Varieties that give higher alcohol yield, cut down waste in the form of spent grains and are easier to process are required. This can be tackled by plant breeders taking an integrated view of the supply chain and being aware of end users requirements. The Research Councils should also play a role in this. At present very little of their resource is put into either basic research or development of raw materials from a Scotch Whisky perspective.

  7.  The Industry is a substantial user of wheat and maize in grain whisky production. This is often forgotten when policies concerning these cereals are formulated with about 3 per cent of all wheat being used in the UK being consumed by the Scotch Whisky Industry. In certain areas it can be even more important with the farmers only growing wheat because the "local" grain distillery will buy the crop.

  8.  Maize usage has made the Industry face up to the issue of genetically modified crops. There are GM maize varieties on the market but, as yet, no barley or wheat. The Industry has a particular sensitivity to this issue. The minimum maturation time for Scotch is three years, often longer and a small number of grain whiskies are used in a wide range of blended products. Thus, if the Industry were to use GMO's and this got into the maturing stocks it would be very difficult to remove which has the potential to cause damage to the long term image of Scotch Whisky. Not surprisingly the Industry does not use GM maize nor encourage the development of other GM cereals. A clear regulatory framework that gives reassurance to the consumer and to the manufacturers is urgently required so that this peripheral issue for the Industry remains just that.

  9.  All distilleries and bottling plants require a supply of good clean water. The maintenance and provision of clean water is essential to production and many distillers do not get the recognition they deserve for their efforts in maintaining and looking after water resources. Clean water is plentiful and abundant in Scotland and care should be taken to ensure this remains so. Therefore it is more than ironic that given this situation the EC should be proposing a new levy on water abstraction which will act as an extra cost for distillers without providing any environmental benefit.


  10.  It is obvious that Scotch Whisky can only be made in Scotland. Part of the reason for this is that the Scottish climate produces the right temperature, humidity and clean air profiles required for Scotch Whisky maturation. This interaction of the spirit in the cask with the Scottish environment is essential for the development of a distinctive Scotch Whisky character. It involves the loss of ethanol to the atmosphere (the so called "angels share" of about 2 to 3 per cent per annum) and because of its essential nature this loss and subsequent costs are accepted by distillers. It is very important that this process is not compromised by legislation designed to set emissions from other types of establishment and which inadvertently includes Scotch Whisky maturation warehouses.


  11.  Bottling plants have to work to very tight tolerances as to fill strength necessitating investment in accurate equipment which allows the reduction of strength of large volumes of spirit down to bottling strength then can accurately fill a large number of bottles to the correct volume with minimum losses.

  12.  Bottlers also face problems with labelling. Each country even within the EC has its own national labelling requirements. Within the EC these national requirements are in addition to the mandatory EC requirements for spirit drinks and harmonisation would be very useful here. A large bottling hall has to fill many millions of bottles of differing products per year which means the managing and delivery of thousands of different labels.


  13.  International protection of Scotch Whisky is a continuing problem. Anti-counterfeiting work where we examine suspect spirits from around the world is conducted at the Institute. This assists in the generic protection of Scotch Whisky. The most common type of counterfeit we see is neutral spirit of unknown origin to which a small amount of genuine Scotch has been added. The manufacturer then tries to pass them of as 100 per cent Scotch Whisky or whisky so damaging sales, image and reputation of genuine products. Brand authenticity is also a problem where a premium brand is substituted by a cheaper blend. The responsibility for protection lies with the brand owner in conjunction with the regulatory authorities of the country concerned.

  14.  An increasing problem found in Europe and one that should be addressed is in prosecutions where the only evidence that a product is not Scotch Whisky is an analytical report and the defendant denies the allegation. Courts in Europe have no option under their rules of procedure but to refer this dispute in fact to an independent Court-appointed expert. The problem arises from the fact that there are very few independent experts on analysis of Scotch in Europe, not surprisingly most are in Scotland, the court appointed "expert" is always from the country in which the dispute takes place. Cases have not proceeded because the "independent expert" does not have sufficient knowledge to advise the court on the data presented.

Alcohol & Health

  15.  Recently a report from the Food Standards Agency appeared giving the results of a survey of ethyl carbamate in Scotch. Despite a largely positive report it was adversely reported in the media with unsubstantiated allegations that Scotch Whisky could damage health. These sort of reports have caused problems in the past and no doubt will in the future. The Industry in this respect takes its responsibilities very seriously and it would be helpful that where such reports are prepared in the future other foods are included so that the consumer can put findings into perspective and make informed choices about the levels of congeners there are in spirit drinks.

  16.  More research is needed into the positive health effects of moderate drinking particularly in the UK for people drinking beer or spirits. There have been various health claims for red wine consumption despite the evidence that any health benefit is provided by the alcohol. This is to the detriment of UK produced alcoholic drinks.

Research Support

  17.  Other than the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University and a small group at Strathclyde University there is almost no research support for the Scotch Whisky Industry from British Universities or Research Institutes. Given the size of the Industry and its importance to the economy this is inadequate. The two main technological drivers in the UK today of information technology and biotechnology are both of central importance to Scotch Whisky production. Research support from the Universities and Research Institutes is required to allow their application and exploitation by the Industry which will help in maintaining its competitive lead.

  18.  Thank you for this opportunity to submit my views in the problems facing whisky production. I have tried to be brief and only outline the problems. If you require further information I would be pleased to supply it.

The Scotch Whisky Research Institute

June 2000

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