Revealing the Mystery of Scotch Whisky – Process Monitoring of Scotch Whisky Production

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Dr David Ellis, Dr R.D. McIntosh  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This PhD opportunity will be based at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

Please contact Dr David Ellis ([Email Address Removed]) for further details.

Historically, the production of Scotch has been characterized by tradition and permanence. The first mention of Distilled Spirit in Scotland dates from 1494, yet there remain questions over the fundamental processes that underpin Whisky manufacture. This project will expand current knowledge through the use of sophisticated analytical methods including solid and liquid state high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, gas-chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), pyrolysis GC-MS, Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and infra-red (IR) spectroscopy. Novel flow methodologies will be investigated to determine if they can aid understanding in the Whisky and Fermentation space. Specifically, the application of NMR to process monitoring, as has been successfully demonstrated in winemaking, will be investigated.

The individual elements that together constitute the manufacturing journey, malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation and the disposal of waste will be subject to a battery of analytical methods that will aid understanding and identify potential for process optimization. A deeper understanding of the art of whisky-making will be of great interest to the distillers.

One marquee experiment already devised will utilize the full three-year duration of the studentship, coincidentally this period is also the minimum maturation time allowed for the creation of final spirit. In collaboration with our partners in the sector we will monitor, in real-time, the changes associated with the slow maturation of the liquor in the barrel, thereby delivering unique data on the chemical modification of the evolving spirit.

The study will feature the use of advanced analytical techniques to understand more about how whisky is made. The successful applicant will develop wide-ranging skills in NMR Spectroscopy, various chromatographic and mass spectroscopic methods among many others. Expertise will be built in complex mixture analysis, data analysis and statistics, along with surface chemistry and bioprocessing. The strong industrial-related element ensures connection to a ‘real-world’ challenge leading to impact and multiple opportunities for public engagement as well as the chance to network with major players in the sector.

This project is part of a wide-ranging programme of research in the peat and whisky space, in collaboration with the industry sector and promises impactful results of great relevance to Whisky production in Scotland.

For further information and an informal discussion on the project, prior to applying, please contact [Email Address Removed].

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Computer Science (8) Environmental Sciences (13) Food Sciences (15)


An assessment of spent coffee-grounds as a replacement for peat in the production of Scotch whisky: chemical extraction and pyrolysis studies, K.P. Krakowiak, R.D. McIntosh and D. Ellis, Sustainable Food Technol., DOI:10.1039/d3fb00088e.

 About the Project