Scotch whisky research institute




The Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) is a registered company in Scotland which serves the needs of distillery companies in Scotland and also worldwide. It is situated in the Robertson Trust building of Heriot Watt University’s north research avenue campus at Riccorton, Edinburgh. It is a much focussed research organisation which helps various companies associated with it in Whisky research. It carries out research right from raw material to bottling of whisky, which includes every step in the manufacturing process. It was started by some Scotch whisky companies in 1979 with a common interest to carry out research based on the Scotch whisky.

Primarily it was started by Jim Gray, Eric Dewar and Jim Swan. Scotch whisky has its unique reputation worldwide, basically due to its quality and flavour. But there was a lot to know about the manufacturing process, chemical/biological conversions taking place in the process. Whisky companies at that time recognised the need of enough research to be done in this area and also on identifying the flavours of whisky, and this is the reason why they required a common platform and hence established SWRI. It is a charity registered in Scotland which does research only for the benefits of the distillery industries.

At SWRI, a wheel named “Pentland Wheel” was developed which is basically used to describe various flavour and aroma of whisky in a descriptive manner. Today all the Scotch whisky companies protect their unique identity in the market by producing the exact typical flavour which the customer likes. Hence flavour plays an important role for a whisky to sustain the competition in the market. This institute’s main aim is to preserve the good wheel of Scotch whisky by developing techniques to identify the originality of whisky to be called as a scotch whisky, thus eliminating the imitating spirit products in the market which may affect the entire Scotch whisky industry.


Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) is a UKAS 1960 accredited laboratory which ensures customers of good quality results. It is basically an R&D organisation. It has members from various countries around the world. Some of the companies associated with it are Chivas Brothers (France), Diageo (UK),

Glenmorangie (France), Inverhouse (Thailand), Morrison Bowmore (Japan), Whyte & Mackey (India), Bean Global (USA), Dranburie (Scotland), Ian Macleod (Scotland), North British Distillers (Scotland), John Dewar & sons (Bermuda), Edrington (Scotland), WM Grant & Sons (Scotland), etc. It also got knowledge transfer partnerships with universities like Heriot-Watt University, University of Birmingham, University of Nottingham, University of Abertay Dundee and Institutes like The Scotch Whisky Association, Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), Brewing Research International (BRI), The Gin and Vodka Association (GVA), Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD), John Innes Centre, Food Standards Agency (FSA) etc.

At present it has got around 24 full time employees. They work under four different groups, namely Executive Board, Main board, Research Management Committee and Technical Liasion Group. These divisions in turn accounts for the systematic and organised work in the research institute. SWRI addresses longer term technical issues to ensure distilling sustainability. It has a thoroughly trained sensory panel of 19 members, who are experienced in a range of spirit products. These sensory panel members carry out the sensory analysis of various whisky products.

Is has UKAS (ISO-17025) accreditation for key methods used in the analysis and research process. Its research work is carried out in areas like Authenticity analysis, Flavour understanding, Linking Chemical & Sensory profiles etc. It concentrates on the quality of the Scotch whisky and tries to make the production process much easier and economical to the manufacturers.

Scotch whisky is the largest category of whisky sold in the world. It is sold in over 200 countries worldwide. The top ten countries which exported Scotch whisky from Scotland in 2008 were USA, France, Spain, Singapore, South Korea, Greece, Germany, South Africa, Taiwan, and Venezuela respectively. Also there is great demand for Scotch whisky in countries like India, China & various gulf countries. In 2008, 300,475,617 litres of Scotch whisky has been exported. This equates to £ 3,027,303,874 in value of business. It means that approximately 25% of UK food & drink exports is only through scotch whisky. This tells us the demand of the product in the world market. Hence SWRI tries to monitor and save the whole whisky market of Scotland and world too.


The research activities carried out by SWRI can be grouped under following categories:


Various research activities are carried out on the raw materials used in the whisky making like Barley, Wheat, Cereals, Starch, and Yeast etc. Genetics of all these raw materials are studied and also there is research work going on the action of Endogenous enzymes produced from raw materials during processing.


The process of fermentation and distillation are studied in depth at SWRI and the whole whisky making process is made easier by implementing best methods and materials in the process. There is also very much interest about the flavour/Sensory aspects of the whisky and hence regularly the sensory characteristics of different whiskies are studied in detail at SWRI and work is going on to obtain best flavour for whisky.

Apart from the above research, various areas like Maturation, Product Protection, Technical Support, Sustainability etc are also studied a lot at SWRI and appropriate research is carried out to protect the originality of Scotch whisky and to improve the whole whisky making process.


A range of analytical techniques & specific methods are developed for whisky & other spirits. Its research work include

  • Authentic analysis
  • Flavour understanding
  • Linking chemical and sensory profiles

Research is carried out on the Maturation & Warehousing process as well so as to decrease the amount of alcohol loss during maturation in Oak casks. SWRI is also very keen in improving both the Malt and Grain whisky process on the whole by developing perfect methods and materials to get optimum results. Minimum alcoholic strength of the whisky must be 40% and has to be made from, processed and matured for at least 3 years in the Scotland in order to be called it as a “Scotch whisky”. The pot still design is very important in Grain & Malt whisky process because it ultimately affects the final product by contributing to the flavour of the whisky.


Scotch whisky has a very good reputation worldwide for its taste and quality that it offers and hence there is a need to protect its brand image. There is also very much need for the Scotch whisky to sustain in a market where various duplicates to the Scotch whisky are constantly made. There is a need to identify the originality of Scotch whisky, thereby eliminating the duplicate ones. Also attention must be paid to increase the production level and to maintain a low product making & selling cost in order to meet the ever growing demand to the Scotch whisky worldwide. Use of the genetically engineered strains of yeast for the fast and enhanced fermentation without altering the metabolic reactions must be considered in future for efficient whisky production. Amount of alcohol lost during maturation in casks must be eliminated by changing the cask design and environmental conditions at storage. Finally I think it is the duty of SWRI and Scottish government to protect the name and fame of scotch whisky in the world market and also to improve the process technically and economically to sustain in the future global market in which scotch whisky has got some billions of pounds business to make.


  • Scotch Whisky Research Institute [online].

    Available from [accessed 05 January 2010]

  • Presentation by James Brosnan (research manager) at SWRI on 21 October 2009.
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