Whisky Co-Products; the extra bits & bobs. Part 2 (Pot Ale)

Copper Still

Last week, I briefly discussed one of the co-products of malt distilleries. We learned—just enough to tuck into your back pocket for later musings—about draff. This week, we dive back into the co-product pot to learn a bit about two others. The first is Pot ale—which to me always sounds delicious. It’s a residue from the inside of the stills and is also referred to as burnt ale (that part does not sound delicious). These dregs contain the following:

–        Yeast

–        Yeast residue

–        Soluble protein

–        Carbohydrates

–        Copper

–        Other minerals

In the past, the pot ale was considered waste, and spread over farmlands or dumped into neighboring rivers and piped into the sea. Eventually, an ever vigilant environmental protection agency got wind of the effluent and laid down the law. Lots of them.

English: Organically produced blackstrap molas...

English: Organically produced blackstrap molasses produced in Paraguay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One method of pot ale disposal is the manufacturing of pot ale syrup through evaporation. The result is a sweet, thick, malty nectar, not unlike molasses, and a constant request among the bovine and porcine diners. Sadly, sheep get the shaft, as the high levels of copper in the syrup tended to have a negative effect on their desire to continue living.

Although used as a liquid feed and fertilizer, pot ale syrup is also often combined with draff, dried, and sold as barley dark grains (cubes or pellets). I’m seeing it as something like barnyard granola, if that helps.

Another co-product from the distillery, one that has no profit-making potential, is called spent lees. It’s the washing up water leftover from making each magical batch of spirit. You’d think with all that alcohol swirling about, cleaning would be self-actuating. Alas, there’s countless minutes spent scrubbing vessels and pipes, all in an effort to make sure your bottle of whisky arrives in your hands sludge free. That’s service and dedication.

This waste water’s next stop is at a bioplant—a treatment facility that will effectively alter levels of BOD (biochemical oxygen demand), COD (chemical oxygen demand) and copper, opening up safe options for disposal.

Poison Garden

Poison Garden (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

Of course, we know now that copper toxicity is an issue to our seafood and freshwater fish, and farmers aren’t too pleased if the copper levels in the soil become poisonous. It’s challenging to sell goods that have been stamped with a giant warning sign by the EPA.

If you’ve the time and inclination to dive further into the tongue-twisting jargon, click here to read about Chivas Brother’s Glenallachi Distillery and their fancy, new “in-home” treatment facility. Either you’ll be thoroughly enlightened on the subject, or you’ll need to lie down and take a couple of asprin.

But again, from a broad perspective, we’re able to see a symbiotic relationship between distillery and land. This one, however, is a little trickier to precisely define. On the one hand, the distillery benefits by ridding themselves of two substances considered both co-product and waste. The co-product has commercial value—both distillery and farmers benefit. The treatment of waste necessitates spending money to reach Environmental Quality Standards and meet the criteria for disposal under current legislation—the distillery is out of pocket, but the land, water and salmon are breathing easier.

Oncorhynchus gorbuscha

This is a good thing, because we all like our salmon pink—not blue from holding their breath while we sort out solutions to the problems we’ve created.


Don’t forget to check out what I blethered on about this week on the main post page (here) and find out what’s cookin’ in the scullery too (here)!


13 thoughts on “Whisky Co-Products; the extra bits & bobs. Part 2 (Pot Ale)

  1. blackstrap molasses, ay? i yoosta buy that back whenever “the day” was!
    recently bought Deanston’s — was new and on sale across the street. ¿ conoces este bebida?

    • I do know it. And it’s a fine malt–and gets bumped up a few notches in my estimation simply because it’s unchill filtered. There’s no smoke in the 12 yr old – which is what I’m gambling was on offer, yes? Honey notes, malty, vanilla bits. Yep, very enjoyable whisky. what do you think?

          • ha. mebbe i shood be a liddl MMbare-assed: half the bottle has disappeared and i purchatcht it 3 daze ago. it’s NOT the 16-yr old, otherwise THAT fact would be on the bottle and box, n’est-ce-pas? but apparently i like it as the disappearance is not entirely explainable. oh: best scotch i ever had was 16-yr old Milford from New Zealand (my kids went to N Z and brought back that bottle. i kept it for over a year …)

              • i’m SERIOUS (as a friend yoosta seigh) as a hart attack (skewered by a hartzhornz?) –> milford (N Z) — they brought me 16-year old — i had a wanna-be native-amerikin medicine man over, we had some, he sat up, eyes a-blazin’ , said “THIS IS MEDICINE ! “

                • I don’t doubt you for a second. I know of a few good distilleries out in Australia and NZ, I’ve just not gotten a chance to taste any of them as of yet. Lot’s of Scots were sent down under long ago. It doesn’t surprise me.
                  And I would always take a medicine man for his word. Honorable, noble folk. And many of them know their fire water.

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