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Arbikie: the sustainable distillery making a difference

Arbikie is more than a distillery – it’s a fully working farm and a hub of scientific innovation with its own circular economy. Find out how our support, effective collaboration and a unique field-to-bottle operation has helped Arbikie become a successful global exporter and a leader in the production of sustainable and climate positive spirits.

29 Sep 2021 | 6 minute read

A leader in sustainable spirits

On the east coast of Angus sits the Arbikie estate: 2000 acres of land that supplies the crops for the range of spirits produced by the distillery that sits just next to it.

While the farm has been run by the Stirling family for four generations, the distillery is just six years old. In that short time, it's become a successful global exporter and a leader in the production of sustainable spirits.

It was brothers John, Iain and David who decided to create a new kind of distillery. One that didn’t import ingredients, export for bottling, and wrack up thousands of miles of carbon footprint. Instead, they created a truly unique field-to-bottle operation.

Dr. Kirsty Black, Arbikie Master Distiller, and Dr. Pietro Iannetta from the James Hutton Institute

It all starts in the field

The nature that surrounds the Arbikie estate provides everything the company uses to make its spirits. From the Angus hills that filter pure water into Arbikie’s underground lagoon, to the soil that supplies ingredients - everything is within arm’s reach.

Arbikie grows all of the ingredients for its spirits on the farm. In fact, the ingredients in each of the spirits are traceable to two centimetres – so Arbikie can literally point you to where the juniper in your gin, for example, was grown. This not only gives the company an excellent level of provenance and traceability, but it also means it’s not harming the environment by having to outsource ingredients.

To keep the land healthy and lessen the risks of over farming, Arbikie uses a seven-year rotation for its crops. This means that it regularly changes what’s being grown in the soil to keep it healthy and to keep the growth sustainable.

The company also relies on the natural benefits of growing peas. Peas release nitrogen as they grow, which acts as a natural fertiliser, lessening the need for artificial fertilisers which contain harmful chemicals that can compromise the health of the land. Growing peas also benefits the ecosystem by supporting pollinating insects.

And, in true Arbikie style, nothing grown goes to waste: the peas are also used in its spirits. 

From farm to distillery in minutes

Once the ingredients have been farmed, they travel just a few minutes to the Arbikie distillery, where the spirits are not only created, but also bottled, labelled, and sealed. This means the process uses negligible resources from start to finish.  

The distillery itself was renovated from the remains of an old cattle barn and is filled with copper pot stills in which all spirits are distilled, reflecting the traditional Scotch whisky method, and creating a uniquely authentic taste.

The company use solar power as one of its energy sources and has just completed an analysis of powering the distillery with hydrogen as part of its application to the Green Distilleries Competition.

Copper pot stills at Arbikie

Unique circular economy

One of the most unique things about Arbikie is the circular economy that it’s managed to create on the estate. Once these ingredients have gone through the distilling process, as much as waste as possible is turned into cattle feed or fertiliser. The cattle help with the healthy growth of the land, while the fertiliser keeps the soil healthy so that more crops can be grown to be used in the spirits. 

Arbikie has also recently announced that it has embedded the world’s first closed-loop distribution technology for premium spirits from ecoSPIRITS into its operations. The technology works to nearly eliminate packaging waste in the spirit supply chain, further reducing Arbikie’s already low carbon footprint and saving a minimum of 550 grams of carbon per bottle.

Climate-positive spirits

Arbikie understands that sustainability isn’t a matter of ticking boxes. It’s a journey, and it doesn’t end at net zero, there’s always more that can be done.

The company is an industry leader in the production of sustainable spirits, but the brothers that founded it are keenly aware that they're just scratching the surface on how distilleries can help the environment.

In 2020, Arbikie released their climate positive Nàdar gin, after five years of research between Arbikie’s master distiller Kirsty Black, Abertay University and The James Hutton Institute. Nàdar bottles avoid more carbon dioxide emissions than they create, saving >1.53 kilograms CO2e per bottle.

Instead of being made from cereals like wheat, barley, or maize as is traditional, Nàdar gin’s base spirit is made from peas, meaning no synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is used, so the negative environmental impact on waterways, air and soils is avoided. The Nàdar range also includes a climate positive vodka. 

Arbikie Nàdar gin

Working together to set the standard

Collaboration is something Arbikie really stands for. The company credits much of its success to its academic and commercial collaborations, such as the ones it has with the James Hutton Institute and Abertay University (from which its master distiller is a PhD graduate). 

Arbikie appreciates the need for competition and commercial success. But it also wants to help fellow distilleries become more sustainable, because the bigger picture is what matters when it comes to sustainability.

Arbikie is always looking at how it can learn from others, too. It isn’t about achieving a state of sustainability, or even net zero. For Arbikie it’s about continual improvement and evolving their business in line with science.

The company is looking at how it can build further sustainability into its distribution. Its spirits are exported all over Europe, the US and Canada, the Middle East (just to name a few) but this success comes with an environmental cost that it’s currently looking for ways to reduce.

Closer to home, Arbikie is focused on continuing to set standards for the industry and striving to, eventually, become the most sustainable distillery in the world. From where we’re standing, it’s already well on its way.

How we've helped

We've worked with Arbikie for several years, providing both financial and advisory support. We’ve provided funding for the company’s product development, design and marketing, and helped to source and fund specialist equipment to expand and diversify production of it’s range of climate-positive spirits.

At the same time, Scottish Development International, our international arm, has helped the company explore and expand into international markets.

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