Back then, as now, the straw was valuable as bedding for farm animals. Or even people. Arriving on Islay in the 1990’s, I had the honour to become friendly with a great island entrepreneur. Although a successful and wealthy man by the time he retired, he was born in a black house and spent most of his teenage years working with horses on an Islay farm. He slept on straw in the hayloft above the stables, a period of his life of which he was very proud.
The Agronomy Institute quickly built up a stock of seed barley and by serendipitous coincidence, came into contact with Mark Reynier, then managing director of Bruichladdich. Mark was determined to explore the flavour potential of using different varieties of barley to distil whisky and he persuaded Dunlossit Estate on Islay to experiment with the new (old) crop using Bere seed supplied from Orkney. The man from Dunlossit who had the unenviable task of trying to work with the Bere, again with minimal equipment and even less experience, was the stalwart Jim Logan, a true Islay Bere pioneer. Jim managed to bring five harvests of Islay Bere home – but it was difficult, difficult work. Jim has now retired from Dunlossit and happily still looks back and laughs at the times they had trying to get the recalcitrant grains to behave.
Bere may have caused more than its share of headaches for Dunlossit and distillers alike on 21st century Islay, but the story has a happy ending. Two happy endings in fact. The Agronomy Institute took up the reins for Bruichladdich and now manages the Bere supply chain for us. Back on Islay, back in those pioneering days was the young Raymond Fletcher. Raymond may no longer be growing bere – but he is now one of our most successful and experienced growers of conventional barley. Every cloud really does have a silver lining.
Photos: John Wishart and Peter Martin
Our latest Bere release is Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008:Islay Grown.
We have now released five single malts distilled from Bere Barley including Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2009. Small amounts of this can still occasionally be found in Global Travel Retail outlets around the world.