The 4th World Whisky Forum was held on 21-23 June 2022 at Stauning distillery, located on the west coast of Denmark.
The World Whisky Forum (‘WWF’) is a significant event in the whisky industry that takes place every 18 months. Anyone involved in the whisky business, from small producers to major companies, is able to attend. This is a key event in the world of whisky where people can share knowledge and opinions and expand their networks in the industry. There are many fascinating opportunities offered at the event, including tastings of whiskies.
The moderator is Mr. Dave Broom, a well-known whisky and spirits writer.
The 4th WWF offered LIVE streaming and virtual ticket sales for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I participated with the virtual ticket, but I could still feel the enthusiasm and liveliness of the venue which was filled with nearly 70 participants mainly from all over Europe through the screen. Although it was a pity that I could not join the event in person, it was a precious moment that led me to realise that the love of whisky connects people beyond borders.
By the way, you may be wondering why the WWF was held in Denmark, and not in the traditional major whisky-producing regions (Scotland, Ireland, U.S, Canada and Japan).
It is not well known in Japan, but Northern Europe has seen a notable increase in the emergence of distilleries in recent years. The Nordic countries already have a similar climate to Scotland. Blessed with magnificent nature, raw materials for whisky, such as barley and high-quality water, can be procured. With these resources and the utilisation of state-of-the-art technology, they are attracting attention with innovative whisky-making not bound by stereotypes.
The WWF sets a theme each time. This year’s theme was “Sustainability”.
One of the aims was to share concerns that anyone involved in the whisky business would have and to find solutions. Located in the heart of Northern Europe, Denmark is known as the most environmentally conscious country in the world and an industry leader in sustainable production. Also, Stauning is notable for only using locally grown and harvested then floor malted at the distillery using modern malting techniques, which allows for full control over flavour as well less freight and reducing use of water compared to traditional floor malting methods. For this important theme, Denmark and Stauning is the perfect place.
The past WWFs have taken place at the following locations.
And the next WWF will be held at the Komoro Distillery in Japan. The duration will be 19-21 February 2024.
The WWF is an event that gathers those in the whisky industry from all over the world to one place. The next WWF being held in Japan is a great opportunity to share the charms and appeal of Japanese whisky with the world. In preparation for the next event, the rest of this article can help to better understand and get an image of the WWF.
WWF 2022 proceeded according to the following schedule.
*All times are in local time (Central European Summer Time)
The first day of the WWF started with a guided tour of the Stauning distillery, offered both in-person and virtually. I attended the virtual tour, in which a staff member of the distillery held the camera while demonstrating the production processes such as floor malting or showcasing the impressive 24 copper stills, which sat fat-bellied with unique peaked hats.
This distillery uses wood that was once burned for its walls, making the building jet-black. Behind this majestic appearance is the ingenuity to protect the building from the sea breeze.
Another important feature of the distillery is the large glass windows that let in lots of sunlight. When looking at the panoramic view of the meadow in front of the building, I could feel the chilling but refreshing Danish breeze even through the screen.
Furthermore, by burning heather, which would usually be disposed of as waste, the distillery has devised a way to create new and unique aromas.Their attitude of respecting local resources and pursuing whisky making that only the Stauning distillery can deliver represents the arrival of a new era of whisky production that is rooted in beauty and symbiosis with the earth.
After the tour, a speech was delivered by Mr. Tommy Rahbek Nielsen from Vestas Wind Systems. Vestas Wind Systems won the award as the most sustainable company in the world, presented by Corporate Knights, based nearby to the Stauning Distillery. It was an important message that shared the bigger picture of “sustainability” in today’s world and where the whisky industry’s position and challenges lie within it.
In session 1, experts presented and discussed resource utilisation of 3 aspects; casks, oak (a type of wood used for barrels), and barley.
Ms. Magali Picard of Demptos Cooperage Research gave the presentation on barrels. Although her research area is mainly wine barrels, she shared knowledge from her chemist’s perspective that could be applied to whisky casks.
The next speaker was Mr. Gregg Glass from Whyte & Mackay. He is leading the Scotch Oak Programme.
For more on the Scotch Oak Programme, click here.
This programme aims to promote whisky production that is more rooted in the local region by planting oak trees in Scotland which will be used to make casks. When it came to challenges such as drying out the timber Scotland’s wet climate, it was emphasised that “working with the right partners is a key”; what is difficult for a single country can be achieved with the right partners. If countries around the world with different climates, technologies, and economic conditions can work together in a way that utilises each other’s strengths, newer and more responsible whisky production will be possible.
The importance of “AS LOCAL AS POSSIBLE” – using local resources wherever possible – was repeatedly emphasised throughout the forum. Young, environmentally conscious consumers in Europe and the U.S. are seeking whisky made from local resources. They were keenly aware that it would not only save energy in imports and exports but would also be a source of creative whisky-making.
The final speaker in session 1 was Mr. James Brosnan, a biologist from the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.
What is the impact of climate change on barley production? How can we enhance barley diversity and develop more durable species? He reported on his research on barley, an essential raw material for whisky, and its challenges. He also discussed how environmental regulations will become increasingly strict and the importance of taking action now rather than waiting for someone else to make you. Whisky production requires a huge amount of resources. This speech provoked thought about the attitude we need to show towards producing whisky that justifies the spending of precious natural resources.
In session 2, four European distilleries presented what sustainability means to them, and how to finance it.
The first presentation was delivered by Ms. Annabel Thomas from Nc’nean distillery.
With experience as a business strategy consultant in London, it is clear that her management skills are active at the Nc’nean distillery, established in 2017.
By quantifying sustainability, the distillery takes a progressive approach towards using and conserving water, a fully circular economy, and biodiversity. They introduced initiatives such as zero carbon emissions, using 100% Scottish organic barley and bottles made with 100% recycled material. Nc’nean is a great example that has succeeded in attracting investors and consumers by ensuring CSR compliance and conducting business in a way that is friendly to the planet, people, and society.
For the official site of Nc’nean distillery, click here.
The next speaker was Mr. Alex Bruce from Adelphi distillery.
He previously worked as a small independent bottler. However, he was unsatisfied with the bottling industry where supply relied on other distillers, leading him to start a distillery by himself.
Back then, he recalls, remote Scottish villages were experiencing severe depopulation. In pursuit of “the sustainability of people and place”, he purposefully chose a challenging site for whisky-making, rather than a location with a good water source and large fields of land.
Adelphi shows a strong belief in contributing to the local community. One of its most innovative projects is selling the casks to a trust bank so that local children can own the casks. When the children grow up, the distillery buys them back. This aims to give the children knowledge of maturation and a management perspective through the ownership of the casks, thereby supporting the revitalisation of the area.
In terms of environmental protection, he introduced energy efficiency using economizers and their locally rooted production method. Adelphi’s commitment to changing society through its management has given new inspiration to the whisky industry, which has close ties with the local community.
For Adelphi’s official website, click here.
The third speaker was Mr. Oscar Bruno from the Swedish Agitator distillery, a maverick in the industry.
Distillery manager Oskar Bruno, Photo © Lars Ragnå
The Swedish word Agitator means “rebellion“. As the name suggests, the distillery is characterised by a novel and innovative approach that defies conventions in the whisky world.
Vacuum distillation is a distillation method that significantly increases energy efficiency.
Seeking ever-delicious whisky, they are experimenting with new distilling methods and equipment that are completely different from the traditions (various methods were introduced, such as applying high pressure during brewing, trying different types of malt, and taking longer fermentation days.)
Accordingly, they are very diligent in following the relevant academic research and gaining new knowledge.
What is whisky? – Their whisky-making starts with such a philosophical question. They are so ambitious to enhance their knowledge and skills through a number of experiments, which displays their commitment to their own words. Agitator gains high reputations from consumers, which can be attributed to their unique whisky-making.
For Agitator’s official website, click here.
Lastly, Mr. Bastian Heuser from Stork Club Whiskey/Spreewood distillers delivered a presentation.
This German distillery has a wide range of eco-friendly initiatives, such as reducing its carbon footprint, sourcing its raw materials from the local area, and using renewable energy resources.
A particularly memorable comment during his speech was that they think about sustainable management not just for themselves but for the sake of those around them (e.g., consumers, suppliers, and employees). Rather than pushing sustainability onto existing systems, I was able to tell that they focused on integrating environmentally friendly practices as a part of their management.
In fact, they received a €300.000 investment by reducing their carbon footprint. At a time when attitudes toward the environment are directly reflected in the assessments of banks and investors, this has given us an important perspective on the challenges that distilleries need to face, for people around them and for society as a whole.
Session 3 was devoted to communication with the consumers regarding sustainability.
To start off, Ms. Joanna Watchman from Content Coms explained the importance of marketing in this changing world.
As a specialist in marketing related to sustainability, she spoke about how young people’s perceptions are changing. She also mentioned the need to increase transparency and prevent greenwashing (disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image). As it came up before, this cannot be done by a single company or country. Cross-sectoral cooperation is needed, with all working in the same direction towards sustainable whisky production.
Following this, Mr. Kieran Healey-Ryder of the Dalmore distillery was the next presenter.
As products are assessed more and more from a sustainable perspective, he described the necessity of enhancing resilience in business models. What was particularly striking in his words was that “the ‘people’ element is essential when considering sustainability”. This can only be achieved with sufficient communication, not just technology. This is why it is important to link the initiatives to the SDGs, which are a common language in today’s world. He also explained the current situation of the taxation on spirits, which are unfairly high compared to other types of alcohol, and the need to advance discussions with governments. Whisky is not just a bottle; it is essential to promote not only its charms of it but also its story.
For the official site of Dalmore distillery, click here.
The final speaker in the forum was Mr. Ryan Chetiyawardana from Mr Lyan.
He is a bartender and business owner centered in the UK who brought a fresh perspective to the topics of the forum. He discussed the role of the bartender as a connector between producers and consumers, and the importance of promoting understanding by educating the consumer. The role of connector will play an important role in the future when considering how to move towards whisky making that is sustainable and satisfactory to both the producer and the consumer.
That was all of the events of the 4th WWF!
In Europe, sustainable practices are already a given and new societal norm. I felt the strong commitment to using local resources and the rethinking of what it meant to produce in respective regions. Cross-country cooperation is essential to enable and correctly communicate to consumers the distillery’s commitment to environmental protection, both in terms of technology and marketing. Although the pandemic may had some impact, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a lack of presence of Japan and Asia throughout the forum.
But there is good news!
The next WWF will be held at the Komoro distillery in Nagano, Japan! There is already a new homepage on the website. As Karuizawa whisky gathers international attention, there will be a need to promote the charms of Japanese whisky to the world.