In the past, he has made innovative use of ultraviolet ink and anaglyphic 3D imagery to develop unique labels for the occasion. The 2022 bottlings feature designs inspired by our From Grain to Green theme, printed using heat sensitive ink that reacts to changing environmental conditions.
‘I started looking at the crisis that’s driving us to make all these positive changes for a better future and thought about ways to bring that story to life,' Raj tells us. ‘I knew we could do it visually with a simple design, but I wanted to demonstrate the effects of climate change in a more immediate way. That was where the idea of using heat sensitive ink came from.’
‘I experimented with a range of inks and found this particular one to be the most interesting in terms of how it works visually. It also has the benefit of being water based, as opposed to solvent based, which was a big plus for me. From there, we did a lot of experimenting and finding the ideal temperature range for what we were trying to do.’
'If you buy one of these whiskies in October, the overall cooler temperatures will make the labels look quite black. You’ll have to hold your hand on them to reveal the colours and see all of the design. But in the summer, particularly on a really warm day, you’ll be able to see it quite clearly. Each label essentially works like a thermometer. '
‘The key thing was to demonstrate visually how much of a difference temperature makes, even the subtlest of changes. That was at the core of what I was trying to do.’
Each label features artwork depicting different aspects of climate crisis. They were designed to illustrate the need to reduce the environmental impact of whisky production and to inspire discussion about the hard work producers are doing to meet those challenges.
Caol Ila 2013 9 Year Old
The first of our 2022 show bottlings is a brilliantly intense young Caol Ila aged for nine years in a single hogshead. While whisky fans may be intimately familiar with the bottlings from Islay’s largest distillery, single casks like this show us a different side of its character. A real treat for any fan of peated malts.
Nose: Coal smoke and brick dust, with a little resin and sea spray – definitely Caol Ila. The smoke is followed by fermented notes of sourdough and parmesan with a little preserved lemon.
Palate: Burning juniper branches with a little dry pipe tobacco and some hoppy brown ale. With water a more herbal side comes forward with mustard greens, menthol and bitter roots like an old-school Italian amaro.
Finish: Long and drying with lingering charcoal embers, orange syrup and rich umami.
In the early days of the whisky business, distillers were often forced to operate beyond easy reach of the law. For these pioneers of Scotch whisky that meant setting up shop in the vast, ungovernable highlands and islands. As the decades passed, small distilleries grew into great factories that stood in some of the world’s most beautiful natural environments. The pollution they created took its toll on their surroundings and Scotland’s delicate ecosystems suffered as a result.
Today, the whisky industry is engaged in a broad effort to reduce its impact on our planet. This is primarily centred on efforts to reduce waste and carbon emissions, but a number of companies are looking at ways to promote biodiversity around their distilleries.
The last year has seen the SWA announce plans to protect peatlands across the country – important spaces for numerous native plant and animal species. Beam Suntory recently committed £3m to restoring peatlands near its Ardmore distillery in Aberdeenshire – a pilot scheme that is intended to be the first step towards conserving some 3,000 acres of Scottish wetlands in the coming years.
Earlier this year, Talisker partnered with Parley for the Oceans – an organisation involved in marine conservation projects around the world. Famed independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail contributed proceeds from the auction of its Glenlivet 1940 80 Year Old to support the charity Trees for Life in its efforts to rewild the Caledonian forest. Glenmorangie in Tain has for some years now been involved in a project to re-introduce native oysters to the Dornoch Firth and a number of distilleries including Macallan and Speyburn have committed funds to protecting at-risk stocks of Scottish salmon and trout.
What initiatives like this show, is that the whisky industry of the future may go beyond reducing its impact on the earth. With the right kind of thinking, it may be able to use its reach and resources to repair the natural world as well.
Clynelish 2011 11 Year Old
A single American oak barrel from the venerable Clynelish in Sutherland. Fans of this cult-favourite distillery often refer to the waxy texture of its single malt, a quality that’s seldom seen in modern whiskies. While it’s a trait that tends to emerge in longer aged expressions, there’s plenty of it to be had in this bold, textural Clynelish.
Nose: Pineapples! Orange and grapefruit peels with a little lemon curd and vanilla.
Palate: Nicely tropical with passion fruit, banana, and pineapple cubes (the sweets this time). The whole thing is palate-coating and fatty as only Clynelish can be with spicy olive oil and sesame seeds. A few drops of water bring out bitter lemon and nice plum brandy.
Finish: Long with oils and waxes remaining on the palate. A coastal touch arrives right on time bringing refreshing sea air and saltwater.
To make whisky you need three raw materials: grain, yeast, and an abundant supply of fresh, clean water. This is necessary for malting barley, mashing grain, and making wash – but a constant flow of water is also required during distilling to run the condensers that collect our new make spirit. This is why distilleries are mostly distributed along Scotland’s many rivers and lochs. But this connection to the water table carries with it environmental risks that must be considered as the whisky industry moves forward.
At present, it can take almost 50 litres of water to make a single litre of whisky. A 2021 study by researchers at University College London – carried out with help from Glengoyne distillery – found that over the coming decades, rising temperatures and declining rainfall will create shortages that threaten whisky production. To safeguard the future of the industry, serious thought must be devoted to whisky’s relationship with water.
SWA monitoring of water usage across the industry has observed a 22% reduction in the last decade. No small task when altering one of your basic ingredients can dramatically alter the character of your spirit. However, as drought conditions this summer halted operations at distilleries across Scotland, there is clearly more work to be done.
Another consideration when talking about water and whisky is the impact distilleries have on the waterways around them. Brewing and distilling creates a number of by-products that can be hazardous if allowed to enter the water table. In the past, this been enough to degrade water quality and threaten local wildlife – but again, fresh thinking is addressing this age-old problem.
Distilleries including Glendullan, Balmenach, and Girvan – William Grant & Sons’ colossal grain facility in the lowlands – have introduced equipment that simultaneously processes pollutants and produces green energy. Theses anaerobic digestion plants break down by-products like draff and pot ale and create heat and biogas that can be turned into energy. It’s not exactly glamorous stuff, but this is the kind of work that will truly build a greener whisky industry and protect our waterways.
Ledaig 2006 15 Year Old
Sherry Butt #13
The peated single malt produced at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull has become highly-sought after in recent years, thanks to excellent quality casks like this one becoming available to independent bottlers. 15 years in a single sherry butt has layered this rich, peaty whisky with a satisfying combination of fruitiness and umami.
Nose: A fruit cake on fire. Then plums, prunes, and old Armagnac all wrapped in satisfyingly industrial smoke.
Palate: Cherries and raw wool with a little rock pool minerality. That industrial side returns with rust, furnaces and burnt rubber. That rubbery note combines with crunchy red fruit and little grip to bring to mind big Italian red wines. A great example of Ledaig in which the maritime and fruity elements are bound together with fine, well integrated peat smoke.
Finish: Long with oily notes of honey glazed ham, seaweed and sweet peat.
In the race to create sustainable whisky, packaging presents a significant hurdle. For decades now, whisky has been marketed with gift boxes and heavy decanters which can be energy intensive to make and transport, as well as being difficult to recycle. If the SWA’s 2040 target is to be reached, the type and amount of packaging we use will have to change drastically.
Drinks giant Diageo recently announced that Johnnie Walker – the best-selling whisky brand in the world – is trialling a bottle made from sustainably-sourced wood pulp. While the concept is by no means ready to roll out across the industry, it does imply the opening of a new frontier in whisky packaging. A lightweight and easily recyclable whisky bottle represents a significant carbon saving in both manufacturing and the amount of energy it takes to carry whisky from the bottling hall to its final destination.
Sustainability leader Nc’nean has used a gift tube made from 90% recycled cardboard since the launch of its first single malt in 2020. The packaging, which contains none of the metal or plastic elements that can make recycling more difficult, is now offered as optional on the distillery’s direct sales. This year also saw Campbeltown’s famous Springbank distillery remove the boxes from its core range in a move to reduce the impact of manufacturing and transportation. As any fan of the cult single malt will to tell you, the move hasn’t made it hang around on shelves any longer than it normally does.
This effort to reduce weight and eliminate unsustainable manufacturing and materials may be just the start of a major shift in whisky. There is talk across the industry of reusable bottles and new types of packaging such as refill pouches. Implementing these products may present some regulatory challenges – at present Scotch whisky must be bottled in Scotland – but the biggest hurdle will be altering the way we perceive whisky. Would you favourite single malt taste as good poured from a lightweight plastic pouch? It may just have to.
Imperial 1996 26yo
Barrels #1053 & #1189
A vatting of two barrels filled in 1996 at the greatly missed Imperial. While some long-lost distilleries like Port Ellen and Rosebank have been brought back to life of late, this old Speysider was totally demolished in 2013. When these casks are gone, they will be gone forever and Imperial’s distinctive profile will be consigned to whisky history. Get it while you can.
Nose: Pure peaches and cream with a bottle of Orangina on the side. There’s also a nice sense of maturity with old paper, wax, canvas and herbal honeys.
Palate: Very creamy with cheesecake, mango, apricot, blueberries and vanilla. Water illuminates a greener side with sesame leaf and bamboo shoots. The honeyed element returns with time, bringing fennel pollen and orange oil.
Finish: More peaches with chalky minerality and drying oak.
Manufacturing whisky requires us to heat fermented wash to a rolling boil so that alcohol and scores of other delicious compounds vaporise and rise to the top of the still. That’s every pot and column still at every one of Scotland’s more than 130 distilleries and the amount of power required to fire them all is enormous. In the past, these stills were directly fired or fed by fossil fuel burning boilers. Today, the industry runs primarily on a combination of natural gas and fossil fuels – but there are plans taking shape to switch the whole thing to primarily renewable sources. It’s an enormous job and the way the whisky world is tackling it is incredible to see.
From venerable old distilleries to small start-ups, efforts are being made to electrify the process and to furthermore ensure that the electricity comes from sustainable sources. Heat pumps, solar panels, and tidal energy are all being explored as options – as are new battery and heat storage systems to allow distilleries to capture and reuse energy.
Bunnahabhain looks set to become Islay’s first distillery to achieve net zero manufacturing thanks to a new £6.5m biomass energy facility. When this comes online, it will use sustainably sourced wood chippings and draff from the distillery to power all of its operations. Biomass boilers are already generating steam and heating stills at smaller distilleries like Nc’nean and its neighbour Ardnamurchan, which runs on a combination of wood chips and hydroelectricity from the Glenmore River. Oban, which has made malt whisky on the west coast since the late 18thcentury, reduced its emissions by 98% after switching to biofuels in 2018. These are small distilleries, relatively speaking, but they serve as proof of concept for the whisky industry that could be.
The impending energy crisis and the threat of climate change make the need for green energy generation ever more urgent. Efforts to meet the SWA’s target of total carbon neutrality mark the start of a new era for whisky – one filled with challenge and opportunity.
Linkwood 2006 16 Year Old
This old Speyside distillery has been in business outside of Elgin since the 1820s. While most of its output is earmarked for its owner Diageo’s blended whiskies, the casks that find their way to independent bottlers are prized for their elegant, citrus-driven profile. This vatting of two hogsheads filled in 2006 is a great example of spirit and cask working perfectly together.
Nose: Lemon tart and a little spearmint lead nicely into conference pears, granny smith apples and porridge with golden syrup. Linkwood at its best.
Palate: More pear and citrus oils with a hint of kiwi fruit and white grapes. It takes water fantastically, showing creamy white chocolate, grassy raw sugar cane and a floral side with elderflower and irises. A very bright, clean whisky where the spirit really shines.
Finish: Expressive with limoncello, butter biscuits and more crisp green apples.