Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery has been in operation at this site in west Louisville since 1933. | Photo by Sara Havens

Each year, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) coalition releases a study that benchmarks water, energy and emissions from distilleries and breweries all around the world.

For the 2018 report, which was the coalition’s 10th, BIER partnered with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to help measure the bourbon industry’s first set of energy, water and emissions data as an addendum to the regular biennial report. Eleven KDA member distilleries participated, and the findings were mostly encouraging and insightful, especially when it came to water use.

The study examined each distillery’s water and energy use from 2013 to 2017, and that data was then compared with numbers from distilleries around the world. Participating Kentucky distilleries included Brown-Forman, Beam Suntory (Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark), Bacardi (Angel’s Envy), Diageo (Bulleit), Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and more.

A handful of distilleries, like Brown-Forman and Diageo, already were active participants in the annual BIER studies, and according to a news release by the KDA, it was Andy Battjes, Brown-Forman’s director of environmental health & safety, who was instrumental in initiating the partnership with BIER.

“For Brown-Forman, one of the advantages of being a BIER member is learning from the technical expertise of other member companies and using that information to accelerate our own environmental sustainability improvements,” Battjes said in the release. “We felt it was important to share this wealth of knowledge with our fellow Kentucky distilleries so we can continue working together to protect and sustain the natural resources that we all depend on and share.”

Water use has decreased since 2013. | Courtesy of KDA

While you can find a summary of the KDA/BIER report online, below are the highlights.

Kentucky Distillery Efficiency: Of the seven Kentucky distilleries reporting water and energy data for all three years, 57% reported a continuous decrease in water use ratio and 71% reported a continuous decrease in energy use ratio.

Water Use Efficiency: The average water use ratio for Kentucky distilleries decreased over 41% from 2013 to 2017, equivalent to an overall water use avoidance of more than six million kiloliters, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool nearly 2,400 times.

Leading Distillery Efficiency: Kentucky distilleries reported lower water and energy use ratios for 2017 compared to the global distillery dataset.

Diversified Energy Mix: Reported energy mix for Kentucky distilleries was consistent with the overall distillery dataset, with purchased fuel comprising over 90% of total energy use in 2017. Natural gas was the predominant fuel type reported by Kentucky distilleries, followed by coal, biomass and diesel.

Varying biomass sources such as wood chips and pellets accounted for nearly 6% of total energy use in 2017, as these materials are typically utilized for distilling processes such as toasting, smoking and the preparation of aging barrels.

Energy use also has decreased. | Courtesy of KDA

Also, according to the release, Heaven Hill, which was new to the BIER study, showed some of the greatest efficiency improvement. For example, after updating the water source at its Bernheim Distillery in west Louisville, the company reduced its water use by 33%.

And by placing two still condensers onto the cooling tower loop, the distillery now recycles water within its operations — saving 330,000 gallons of water per day.

All in all, the KDA said it was pleased with the results and now has numbers to compare and contrast. In a statement in the report’s summary, it said:

“The Kentucky Distillers Association maintains an unwavering commitment to improving business performance, encouraging environmental stewardship, and ensuring the sustainability of the Kentucky bourbon industry.

“Our inaugural Benchmarking Addendum serves as a testament to the proactive approach KDA is taking to monitor and collaborate toward efficiency improvements while mitigating our environmental impact.”

Sara Havens

Sara Havens

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."