Production director Allan Logan and head distiller Adam Hannett of Bruichladdich have announced that they have successfully distilled a spirit using an Islay-grown rye for the first time. Allan says “We have been looking at experimenting with different grains for a while – and we feel that using rye could give us access to interesting new styles of spirit. We have managed to create around 6,500 bulk litres and are filling a mixture of casks – first-fill Bourbon, and virgin American and European oak.”
The rye was sown at Coull Farm on the Rhinns of Islay by Andrew Jones who has been growing barley for Bruichladdich for a number of years. The crop grew and ripened well but the Hebridean weather prior to harvest was very difficult and this inevitably impacted on the yield. There were not three dry days together from 10th August through till the end of October and it was tricky both getting the crop dry enough – and having the ground hard enough to take the combine. Happily, the Ballinaby Field at Coull is a sandy loam which drains quickly. Unfortunately some of the other Islay farmers who were growing malting barley for us were not so lucky.
Eventually Andrew managed to get a window of weather that allowed the harvest of his ten trial acres. He had customised his Claas combine with special crop lifters, and then combed laterally across the rye, which had been flattened by the wind and rain. He managed to bring in 17 tonnes – which was a triumph in the circumstances.
Allan and Adam decided to use the rye unmalted and settled on a 55/45 rye/barley mashbill, taking the grain down to 5% moisture content prior to milling. This was all frontier stuff as rye grains are much smaller than those of barley. The kernels, like those of wheat, have no husks, which taken together with the high content of sugars like fructosans and sucrose and the soluble polysaccharide beta-glucan, means it has a tendancy to go gloopy, holding onto water at the drainage stage; in short it’s “a nightmare to mash”.
We reduced our regular mash size from 7 tonnes to 4.5 (similar to the approach we take with bere barley) and mashed each load slightly differently to test different ways of working.
Employing our usual yeasts, we observed the subsequent variety in the behaviour of the different washes during fermentation; each had been derived using a slightly different technique and so we were able to evaluate the results and learn as we went along.
Allan again, “This has been quite a challenge but happily the end result has been very worthwhile. There are noticeable differences from malted barley, in the aromas through the fermentation, to tasting the new make. It’s got a really sweet, floral aroma but peppery with added spices…”
Now we will have to wait and see how the spirit develops in the cask. Which is a fascinating prospect.
Regulations will of course preclude this from ever being presented as single malt Scotch, but as the Progressive Hebridean Distillers, we are all about exploring new flavours and variety. We have been encouraged enough by the results to be talking to Andrew Jones about doubling the acreage of rye at Coull next year. Rye has some interesting side benefits for farmers looking to improve soil quality through crop rotation. Here’s hoping he goes for it…
You can watch a video of one of the experimental rye mashes with Adam and Gillie and Graham here.