Island malt whisky alliances help conserve ancient Scottish crop
A second island alliance between university researchers in Orkney and a distillery on Islay has seen a new single malt whisky made from an ancient barley variety released this month. Bruichladdich Distillery’s Bere Barley 2008 is now available at selected Global Travel Retail outlets.
Isle of Arran Distillers also recently released a cask strength whisky from a 2004 distillation. Both products result from collaborations with researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Agronomy Institute, based at Orkney College UHI.
Bere was once a staple barley grown throughout Scotland. It was made into meal for baking and malt for producing both beer and whisky. Particularly suited to the challenging environment of the Highlands and Islands it was especially important to early distillers.
Apart from a very small distillation in 1985, these new single malt Bere whiskies are probably the first to be made exclusively from Bere for well over one hundred years.
“As farming practices changed and higher yielding, easier-to-grow varieties became available, Bere fell out of favour and is nowadays only grown by a small number of farmers in the northern and western isles,” explained Peter Martin, director of the Agronomy Institute.
Recognising that the survival of Bere on farms could be helped by finding new markets for the crop, the Agronomy Institute started to collaborate with distilleries and breweries in 2004.
“We wanted to demonstrate that old crops can still be very valuable to today’s commercial companies, added Peter Martin. And the development of new markets for such crops allows farmers to earn an income from growing them and helps to ensure their on-farm survival. This is important for conserving them as a genetic resource and allows them to continue to adapt to changing conditions.”
Douglas Taylor, Bruichladdich Global Brand Director says: “For over a decade now, we have been treating our raw material with the respect it deserves – and our relationship with the University of the Highlands and Islands is a very important part of that. Different barley varieties from different terroirs give us different flavour profiles and this fact is beautifully demonstrated in our latest expression of Bere. We have been working with the Agronomy Institute for a number of years now and it gives us great pleasure to release our first single malt distilled from Bere grown on Orkney. This original spirit is light and floral in character with a remarkable depth – a reflection of its exceptional provenance.”