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THINK TANK • 27


varieties of barley this year – Concerto, which we used for the first time, as a replacement for Optic; Minstrel, which we grow for The Macallan; and Belgravia, which goes to the grain distillers. “Belgravia, in particular, surprised us with its lower-


than-expected nitrogen level. Our contract with the grain distillers requires barley with 1.8 to 2 per cent nitrogen. This year, it was 1.3 to 1.4 per cent but, with the distillers thinking there was going to be a grain shortage, they took it all. ” Duncan Hepburn, at Mid Coul Farm near Inverness,


which supplies Bruichladdich on Islay, is another whose crop of malting barley turned out well. The cereals manager for the farm said: “The rain we


got in early summer helped give us a better yield on our spring barley crop of Publican. “We grew 500 tonnes for Bruichladdich and this


year we also grew 100 tonnes for another customer in London. We haven’t sampled the barley yet and it probably won’t be sampled until it goes to Bairds [a major UK maltster] for malting in January.” Bruichladdich gets its barley from 28 different farms – 16 of them on Islay, three on Orkney and the rest from organic sources on the Scottish mainland. Managing director Mark Reynier said: “We use


seven or eight different varieties including Golden Promise, Chalice, Publican and Oxbridge, and here on the island we grow Bere, which is the ancient Viking barley. “How much new spirit you can produce from the


barley depends on the variety, on the farm, on the soil, and on the year’s climate. It varies. The lowest yielding of all is from Bere barley. That’s about 370 litres of alcohol from a tonne of grain. The Islay barleys give roughly the same yield as the organic barleys grown on the east coast. That varies between 390 and 410 litres of alcohol per tonne.” Although the price of barley has gone up this


year, Reynier says it isn’t expected to affect the price consumers pay for whisky, by the time all the production costs are amortised over ten years. “We feel we can pay a premium to buy the best barleys possible, rather than buy commodity barley from Russia or Australia or wherever. Such crops are untraceable, with no provenance. That would undermine the whole concept of what we do here, which is having total traceability for all our barley. “We actively want the variables for our products.


We choose different varieties of barleys from different soils for our whiskies. We don’t do that for fun. It’s done because each farm, each soil and each microclimate produces a different result. Even if the guys on Islay grow the same varieties of barley, and you give them the spirit from their own barley, they have to rationalise why the spirit from their barley is different to their neighbours. “It comes down to soil. The French have a term for


it – terroir – and gardeners and farmers understand it. What we’re trying to do is remember that whisky is an agricultural product. It’s not an industrial one. Its primary raw ingredient is barley. That’s what makes it the most complex spirit in the world. Where that barley comes from will influence how the spirit tastes. If you can spot the difference at zero age, imagine what it’s going to be like after seven, eight, nine or 10 years of age.” Reynier says that some of his barley was affected by poor weather conditions. “The Octomore fields on


2 A CROP OF EXPERTS


Islay this year produced half the yield from normal because the weather conditions meant the harvest was later than usual.” Elsewhere, the story’s the same. Simon Barry, chief


1


executive of malting barley-producing farmers’ co- operative Highland Grain, said: “In theory, the harvest is okay – nitrogen levels are low, and grain size is good. Thousand grain weights [literally the weight of one thousand grains of barley] are a bit lower than last year, but close to normal. “The big factor this year was moisture. Certainly in some areas of the country – though not all – there was a lot of rain through harvest and this delayed getting the crop in. “But, overall, I think the industry should expect a


reasonable crop. It’s not going to be a vintage crop, but not a disaster, either. There could still be issues on germination here and there. Unfortunately, that’s not going to become apparent until a reasonable quantity of barley – particularly the later harvest – has been malted, and that could be into the first quarter of next year.” Barry believes that if the Scottish weather could


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magically be improved, then growers and maltsters could guarantee good quality barley every year. “Without the rain this year, we would have been enjoying an absolutely vintage crop. It would have been first class. It wasn’t so much that the rain arrived at the wrong time – it arrived and never went away!” he said. “There are areas of the east coast that escaped the worst of it and got their harvest in, in good condition


4 I think the industry 5 1 FRANCIS CUTHBERT


Co-owner of Daftmill Distillery and Farm


2


DUNCAN HEPBURN


Cereals manager at Mid Coul Farm 3


MARK REYNIER


Managing director, Bruichladdich Distillery


4 SIMON BARRY


Chief executive of Highland Grain


5


ROBIN BARRON General manager, East of Scotland Farmers


and with low-ish moisture. But in Perthshire, and some areas of central Scotland and Lothian and Borders, the rain came every day – not big quantities – but it stopped harvesting and made life difficult. “That’s the only risk – high moisture – and it’s the


one we can’t control. The industry is getting a fantastic service from its farmers and maltsters because the varieties that we now have, and the agronomies that we now use, and the equipment that is used to harvest the barley as quickly as possible off the field is so much better than it was 20 years ago. The risks are so much lower. Had we had this weather 20-odd years ago with the equipment we had then, and the varieties we had then and the agronomy we had then, you would not have had even half the quantity of barley available to the industry this year.” Robin Barron said: “I’m not sure that using barley


from overseas would have much of an effect on the taste of the finished spirit. What I would say is that, even if taste is not affected, it is important for distillers to buy Scottish barley for reasons of brand, provenance, the environment (fewer food miles) and to support the local economy.”


THE SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY


should expect a reasonable crop. It’s not going to be a vintage crop, but not a disaster


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