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Andrew Pouring Spent Botanicals in to our Composting Bays

Read all about the measures we’ve put in place to reduce our impact on the earth.

Back in 2017, when Andrew and I first stood in the vast, 13,000-square-foot abyss we now call home, we knew we had a sizeable responsibility: to carefully consider our activities and the impact they might have on the planet.

We first looked at water consumption. In distillation, water must be continuously fed into the condenser to cool spirit vapour back into liquid. Heartbreakingly, most small distilleries send this perfectly good water straight to drain after a single use, but we knew we needed to be better – so we’ve designed and installed a closed-loop cooling system instead. As the cooling water exits our condenser at 60ºC, it passes through a heat exchanger, where our highly-efficient recirculating chiller knocks the temperature down to 12ºC. It then fills into a buffer tank, ready to be reused and pumped back into the system on demand with zero wastage.

Based on our current production levels, we estimate this saves roughly 2,000,000 litres of good, clean mains water from getting flushed down the drain each year. Do you ever wonder why this isn’t the norm? Why small distilleries aren’t doing more? For now, the answer might be cost.

In 2018, when we were looking to install our water-saving recirculation system, we approached various organisation, like Zero Waste Scotland, to ask if they could help fund such projects. Unfortunately, in order to access the support, Sweetdram had to invest a minimum of £100k – money we just didn’t have – so Andrew and I had to dip into our own pocket to pay the £25k separately. That amount of cash is potentially crippling for a small business, so most craft distilleries simply can’t afford to purchase the equipment. It’s a shame that the government aren’t doing more to help through low-scale match funding or similar initiatives. Surely that must all change soon.

Beyond water, we’ve taken other steps to minimise our carbon footprint. For example, we compost all the organic by-products generated on-site – including spent botanicals and fruit pomace from Sail We Must – into feed for new botanicals, which we grow in the distillery garden for our seasonal Wild Absinthe. Maybe it would be easier to ship it off for commercial disposal like other urban distilleries, but by pushing ourselves to be inventive, and making the physical effort to create a circular economy, we’ve managed to upcycle waste into a deliciously unique new spirit.

Away from the distillery, our team members live as sustainably as possible. We work hard to minimise personal waste, especially single-use plastic, limit car use and coordinate bulk meals using ingredients that would otherwise get thrown away. We’re as passionate about cooking as we are about distilling, and for me personally, I love the challenge of utilising food destined for the bin. We recently bought a dehydrator to dry over-ripe, expiring fruit into tasty, healthy treats, and I’ll ferment and pickle veg to preserve it. It might sound relatively minor, but these positive practices set a standard, which can become infectious and influential.

In the end, our sustainable distillery model starts and finishes with people. It’s not an empty marketing ploy to sell products. We distill as we mean to live. And if we can lead by example at work – through the big process decisions and the smaller social ones, like what we eat for lunch – then hopefully that ethos can find a way to permeate out into the wider world.

Daniel Fisher

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