Suntory Holdings has claimed a “world-first” in the use of hydrogen to fuel the distillation of whisky.

The Japanese drinks giant carried out the trial at its Yamazaki distillery in Osaka.

In a statement, Suntory Holdings said the test “proves that the new make spirits distilled at this trial have the same quality and taste as those produced by conventional natural gas”.

The company used the hydrogen in the “direct firing” of the still. Suntory Holdings said using the direct-firing technique can heat the still at higher temperatures than if using indirect heating by steam coils.

Direct-firing can also “enhance” the quality of the spirit and its “depth of character”, the spirits giant said. It added, however, that replacing gas with hydrogen in this process had been a “challenging step” in its quest to “decarbonise” its whisky production.

For safety reasons, conventional natural gas was used to start and end the burning during the trial, Suntory Holdings said.

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The group is aiming to cut greenhouse-gas emissions at its sites in half by 2030, compared to a 2019 baseline. It is also targeting a 30% reduction in emissions “throughout the value chain” by 2030.

By 2040, the company is aiming for net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain.

Suntory Holdings’ Beam Suntory arm is also looking to “decarbonise” its whisky production in Scotland and the Yamazaki trial was part-funded by the UK government.

The trial was part of a project the company has dubbed WhiskHy, which is looking to use “decarbonisation technology” based on ‘green’ hydrogen.

“We have an ambition to achieve net zero emissions across our entire value chain by 2040, and it is through unique collaborative projects such as WhiskHy that we will get there,” Alistair Longwell, the head of distilling and environment at Beam Suntory, said.

Suntory Holdings said it will look to “verify this technology at a commercial scale” at its Hakushu distillery in Japan, where, by next year, the company is aiming to have installed a system to produce green hydrogen.

Last year, Bacardi ran a trial of a production run of a spirit bottle manufactured using a hydrogen-powered glass furnace. The distiller teamed up with Hrastnik1860 – a Slovenia-based glass manufacturer – to produce 150,000 glass bottles in the 70cl format for its St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur brand.