We paid a visit to Bairds Malt in Inverness a week or so ago where the trucks were bringing the barley harvest in from the rich grain fields around the old Scottish Highland city. Each truckload carries around 28 tonnes.
Every load has to be logged and tested before it is accepted. Samples are drawn by technicians from via a remotely controlled auger for evaluation. The nitrogen levels are checked (distillers prefer a low nitrogen grain, brewers rather higher).
One of the most important parameters is the germination rate of the barley. Samples should be able to show a germination rate of greater than 98%. This is done by mechanically splitting the individual grains and treating them with an agent that will stain red if the sample is viable.
Only when the tests are completed is the truckload cleared to be ‘tipped’.
Bairds are also conducting on-going field evaluation trials of the different barley varieties supplied by seed merchants. This year they have 21 different varieties on test, all planted in the same field on the same day. All are provided with exactly the same ‘inputs’ (fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides etc) at the same time. Each plot is then monitored and harvested/malted separately for evaluation. Both farmers and distillers appreciate the value of these independently conducted trials which provide an objective view of how new varieties of malting barley are developing. It takes years for a new variety to be accepted.
One of the many interesting aspects of these trial plots is that they show just how dramatically the different varieties vary, in a physical sense, from one another. How can two barley varieties that look so different have exactly the same taste profile? The evidence from our work at Bruichladdich suggests that indeed they don’t!
With thanks to Mark Kinsman and all at Bairds Malt of Inverness