Heritage Crops

I have no  detailed tasting notes for any of the whiskies we sampled at the distillery because I didn’t write anything down.  Instead I just noted down some broad impress ions when I got back to the cottage, such as how much the different varieties of barley affected the flavour. There were three drams: Scottish barley, Islay Barley, and Bere Barley – all delicious but all different. The one I was particularly taken by was the Bere Barley, which had a clean, fruity nuttiness and a round flavour in the mouth – very satisfying.

Making whisky out of here barley is one of the reasons this distillery is interesting. They are both exploring traditions and sourcing locally. In the UK bere is specific to the Highlands and Islands,where it has been grown continuously since it was introduced by the Vikings in the ninth century. Although it is adapted for northern lands by needing only a short growing period it has a couple of disadvantages in that its yield is low and its straw is long and spindly and apt to collapse before harvest (quite a good metaphor for something that might be turned into something alcoholic). It stopped being used by distillers at the beginning of the twentieth century and the current acreage under cultivation is very small. This has caused the Agronomy Institute of the University of the Highland to investigate ways of encouraging its use and increasing its yield (here is an interesting article about it). So far there has been a beer, two whiskies (the first made by the Arran distillery). I don’t know if Arran is continuing with the grain but the Bruichladdich project seems on-going. In the press release at the beginning of the collaboration the date of 2016 was mentioned as to when it would be available. But it looks like Bruichladdich has changed its approach and now release younger whiskies. Certainly the core range has changed to No Age Statement. I’m not sure how I feel about that – after all when a whisky is good enough it is old enough but at the same time it is interesting to see how a whisky changes and matures over time.

One thing I do know though is that I don’t like the travel trade and the way it tries to create a special market. Bruichladdich has entered the travel market by making some of its whiskies exclusive to travel outlets. Bere is one of them and apart from the distillery it cannot be bought anywhere else in the country. Damn! (Although, to be honest, that is not too much of a problem as I do travel on Brittany Ferries but nevertheless, as a point of principle I do not like it).

P.S. The  image of the ears of bere is from http://www.schoolofancientcrafts.org.uk/1.html