In early 2016, polar explorer Robert Swan and his son Barney were planning a trip to the South Pole which would only use renewable energy.

Their project, the South Pole Energy Challenge, was developed to show the world it would be possible to travel and survive in the most inhospitable place on the planet, without the need to use any of the Earth’s resources on the way.

One of the challenges during the trek would be to produce drinking water for the team – something usually done using aviation fuel to melt snow. Robert was keen to find a simple, robust and zero-carbon way to do this – and so he called on his friends at Ardgowan Distillery to help.

Why a distillery, you may ask? Well, prior to getting involved in making whisky, the founder members of the distillery team had been involved in renewable energy, working in wind, wave, hydro and solar projects. Robert knew we would love a challenge. So, in the spring of 2016 he asked us to develop a zero-carbon snow melter that would be lightweight, robust and inexpensive.


After some creative thinking, and a few sketched designs, we bought some stainless-steel vacuum flasks, argon gas, clear plastic polycarbonate tubing, matt black paint and some glue – and the Ardgowan “snow melter” was born.

The idea was simplicity itself. The sun’s rays would pass through the plastic and heat up the matt black flask, whilst the argon gas would act as an insulator to stop the melted water refreezing. All the polar explorers would need to do was fill each flask with snow, screw on the lid and leave it on top of the sled for the day.

We sent our prototype to the Southern Hemisphere, and in late 2016 Robert and the team put their melter to the test at their Union Glacier field base. The super-simple, low-cost kit worked just as intended, and Robert asked for four expedition-ready snow melters: one for each member of the South Pole team.

To share in Robert’s historic trek, we asked him to take a bottle of very special aged single malt to the South Pole – which now forms part of the Ardgowan Expedition commemorative blend of malts. We also gave them a small sample with which they could toast their epic trip!

...and the rest is history.


On 15 January 2018, Robert Swan’s team and son Barney reached the geographic South Pole, Robert himself having had to pull out 300 miles into the journey in need of a hip replacement. Their mission to conduct a polar expedition entirely on renewable energy was an extraordinary success – and the Ardgowan snow melters played their own part in keeping the explorers well-watered every step of the way.

Together with Robert and Barney, we have shown the world that we can all live off renewable energy, and that the outlook for the future of this planet is brighter than ever; Robert and Barney continue to campaign globally to help drive change in the way we use energy.

This father and son have been an inspiration to us at Ardgowan Distillery. Once complete, our new distillery will employ the latest techniques to minimise water usage and help deliver a more sustainable whisky industry.

That is something we can all raise a glass to.