Global launch of Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008: Islay Grown


Bruichladdich 'Bere Barley 2008: Islay Grown"

It is interesting how climate change is sparking renewed interest in Bere, Britain’s oldest cereal crop. Bere is a six row barley that can trace its ancestry back to the very dawn of our agriculture, some 5,000 years ago. It used to be very widely grown, but over the past two centuries has been largely replaced by modern hi-yielding two-row varieties developed by plant breeders interested only in increasing harvest sizes.

It survives in the Northern Isles partly because it grows fast in poor, sandy soils and ripens early in long hours of summer daylight, but also because it produces great-tasting beremeal from which you make bannocks, delicious beers and whisky. Bere was, after all, the cereal grown in the 17th century by illegal distillers in the Scottish Highlands as they developed uisge beatha, the forerunner of modern single malt Scotch.

Now, researchers at the Agronomy Institute/UHI in Kirkwall are realising that the genetic code of Bere could hold the key to much more than simply a great local flavour profile.  Its ability to grow and ripen so quickly on nutrient poor soils may prove vital as our warming climate drives cereal production northwards. These are characteristics that have been stripped out of modern varieties and Bere could prove the key to their return.

The Institute was opened on Orkney back in 2002, and in 2005, working with Bruichladdich and Dunlossit Estate, a consignment of Bere seed was supplied by the researchers for an experiment on Islay”.  The idea was to see if a serious commercial use could be developed for the grain, but there were hard times ahead.

For five years, Dunlossit Estate workers Jim Logan and Raymond Fletcher struggled with their new/old crop. Though it grew well, it was difficult to harvest and very hard to handle. Small quantities were brought in however, and we were genuinely excited when the first Bere malt came back from the maltsters.

But then disaster struck. Milled into a coarse grist, Bere proved so dense that it sheared the drive shaft of the raking mechanism in our mash tun, an ancient vessel that dates back to when the distillery was built in 1881. But after digging out tonnes of a sort of aromatic porridge, we persevered and were eventually rewarded with a quite extraordinary spirit.

Nine years later, the results of this small-scale experiment are emerging. An inevitably rather limited edition of just 18,000 bottles is being released to specialist whisky shops around the world.  Head distiller Adam Hannett describes the new Bere whisky as: “Amazing. There are similarities in flavour profile to that created from regular Scottish barley but with more emphasis on the fruit and malt notes.”

The Islay farmers’ experiments with Bere are unlikely to be repeated in the short term, but work and harvests continue up on Orkney.  The UHI results are being analysed and shared by the James Hutton Institute, the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Iceland, Copenhagen and other northern research organisations across Scandinavia and even Canada.

Bere is suddenly being taken very seriously indeed. It may or may not prove to be vital in securing food supplies for the generations to come, but in any event, we now know it makes a truly great dram.


Bruichladdich 'Bere Barley 2008:Islay Grown' is an unpeated, single vintage, single estate Islay single malt Scotch whisky.


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