The Scotch Whisky Research Institute Biology Essay

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The Scotch whisky Research Institute (SWRI) is a prime organization for research in the field of whisky, starting from raw material to the final product including the production process. It is situated at The Robertson Trust Building of Herriot Watt University Research Avenue Campus in Riccarton, Edinburgh.

It was established by a joint effort of Scotch whisky firms in 1979 by the name of Pentlands Scotch whisky Research Institute, now called as The Scotch Whisky Research Institute. It was start under the supervision of JimGray, Eric Dewar and Jim Swan, out of which Eric was a biochemist with training in carbohydrate chemistry. Earlier the Scotch whisky was distinguished by its place where it is manufactured because one of the reasons responsible for the distinct character of whisky is water from river at the location. But as the demand increased, so the number of distillers, the possible reason to stay in market and impress customer was to distinguish there whisky.

The main motive behind establishing this institute was to carry out research in identifying different flavours of whisky and the possible chemistry behind it because the first sense of attraction is the sense of smell and then taste which describes the flavour.

The “Pentland wheel” was introduced to describe various different flavour and aroma hidden in the whisky and the chemical compound responsible for it. Almost, every Scotch Whisky Company follows this chart to describe the taste of their whisky. The Wheel was only for the use of industries but not the customers.

This invention was a real success as the distillers were able to explain about their scotch whisky in a very descriptive way, which in turn drew attention of customers toward the product and made easier for whisky lovers to choose their own flavour or to experiment a new one in the market. It result an increase in sale of Scotch whisky all around the globe.

At present SWRI look after all the aspects to preserve the originality of Scotch whisky by conducting research for improving production, reducing pollution and implementation of cost effective techniques to sustain the royalty of Scotch Whisky in market.

(Broom,2007; Miles,2008; Smith,2008)

Business Aspects

The Research laboratory is UKAS 1690 accredited which ensure the customers for high quality results at a very well skilled lab. It is a research and Development (R&D) based organization. It is funded by several entities. SWRI is organized into four different groups which are dived into Executive board, Main board, Research Management Committee and Technical Liaison Group. Thus help in systematic and disciplined work.

There operation is based on four themes which include sustainability, conservation efficiency, alternative technologies and product integrity. There work is to solve the problems of the distilleries and to get sustainability of product on long term basis, research on beneficial aspects of production and maturation of whisky by keeping in mind the Scotch whisky law.

SWRI has tie-ups with several companies which includes Beam Global Ltd, Chivas Brothers Ltd, Diageo Scotland Ltd, The Drambuie Liqueur Co Ltd, The Edrington Group Ltd, The Glenmorangie Co Ltd, Inver House Distillers Ltd, John Dewar and Son Ltd, Morrison Bowmore Distillers ltd, The North British Distillery Co Ltd, Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd, Whyte & Mackay Ltd and Wm Grant & Sons Distillers Ltd.

According to AIRTO (Association of Independent Research and Technology Organizations) the turnover of this institute is £ 150,000,000 with approximately 24 employees.

Research and Technological Aspects

In 8th century the first pure distillation procedure was introduced by Jabir ibn Hayyan, a Muslim chemist. Generally, distillation involves pot still which is used for Malt Scotch whisky and column or continuous still for Scotch Grain whisky. The most important component which is responsible for flavour in whisky is copper. Especially in Malt Scotch whisky, the pot still design including heating and cooling procedure plays a very important role in the final product.

The whisky to be called as “Scotch Whisky” has to be from Scotland, made from water and cereals, only water and caramel can be used as additive, should be processed in mash, only endogenous enzymes are used for making fermentable products, fermentation should be done by yeast, it strength should be less than 94.8% and sold at not less than 40%. , it should be matured in less 700l capacity casks and it should fall under the EC Regulation No. 1576/89. The whisky tasting is done only nosing

The research at SWRI is divided into two groups which includes Long-Term projects and Short-Term projects.

Long-Term Projects:

The long term projects are generally associated projects for making the future of Scotch whisky better. The main motive of projects revolves around three factor which includes efficiency, cost, pollution but maintaining the quality and standards of Scotch whisky. There are several projects going on out which some important ones are as follows:

The Green Project –

It is a linked project which includes several industries and research institutes. The work is being carried out on wheat crop for looking the genetics aspects to increase its efficiency in terms of ethanol and to reduce the nitrogen emission. It started in 2004 with a budget of £ 2.5 million and has deadline in 2009.

Improving Pot Still Efficiency Whilst Conserving Spirit Character –

This project is related to processing part. Its main motive is to look after the consistency and chemistry of spirit in pot stills, study on alternative designs for heating strategies and copper utilization by determining disadvantages or advantages of the design.

Optimisation of heat treatment conditions for cask regeneration –

This project deals with the study in sensitive characters defining the interaction of sulphur compounds (Dimethylsulphide, disulphide or trisulphide) with cask char.

Methods for Detecting Adulterated and Counterfeit Whisky –

It is to maintain the veracity of Scotch whisky. A Scotch whisky should follow a legal definition and to check that several analytical testing which includes Densitometry, GC-MC, HPLC, Ion Chromatogrphy etc are been carried out of different brands of Scotch whisky. The Scotch whisky samples are collected from Scotland and all around the world and undergo certain tests. If the spirit manufactures does not follow EC Regulations then they are dragged to court for legal actions.

For example: “The Highland Game” a ‘Shropshire Scotch Whisky'. It was a non- cereal whisky. The person went behind the bars and paid a huge amount of fine for disobeying the rules.

All of the above ensuring the new spirit consistency which is based on maintaining the spirit flavour. This includes the study of chemistry related aspects of spirit.

Short-Term Projects:

It includes individual company projects, heath scares in food or beverage companies and taints in bottle products.

Taint is a term use to define alien flavour in food which is due to external factors and gives a very unpleasant taste. It is generally identified by musty or earthy flavour. It can happen during packaging or algal contamination of water. The most commonly found taint is cork taints in wine. The compound responsible in more than 80% cases in wine industries is 2,4- trichloroanisol.


As popularity of Scotch whisky is increasing in whole world, so there is a need of high production without increase in the cost of bottle. As the copper resources are decreasing, so there is a need of alternative for it and so far silver has shown good results. High efficient genetically modified crops can be introduced which results in less waste and more spirit. A genetically engineered yeast strain can be used for fast fermentation without altering other metabolic reaction responsible for the alcohol production and flavour. During maturation maximum amount of ethanol is lost; so as to conserve it the design of cask and the angle on which it is kept can be changed.

To prevent the cork taint either synthetic or plastic corks can be used which does not alter any characteristics of whisky. There should be a proper check for adulteration because this affects the brand equity.


* Association of Independent Research and Technology Organizations.[ no date].[online]. Available from: [ Accessed 10 December 2008]

* Broom, D. 2007. Interview with Harry Riffkin. The Scotch whisky review.[online]. Available from: [ Accessed 10 December 2008]

* Miles, P., Laing, R., Smith, G.D., MacLean, C.2008.Unfiltered news from The Scotch whisky.