Andrew Jones works some of the most exposed farmland on Islay . Coull sits on the far-west coast, near Machir Bay. His fields are ravaged by salt spray, Atlantic winds and in the unluckiest of times, geese. Around 4,000 of them stay on Islay year-round, but that can multiply tenfold from September to March.
Growing barley here is extremely trying but Andrew’s attitude is surprisingly resolute. He meets the challenge with positivity, and a sense of calm, “if you don’t try, you’ll never know”. It is an almost thankless task, that results in around two thirds (around 2 tonne per acre) of the yield to that of mainland farms. It’s a task that’s undertaken in order to grow barley locally for Bruichladdich single malts.
A few field notes from recent musings can be found below:
Andrew comments that the soil diversity in Islay is impressive. On Hunter Jackson’s land at Cruach, he mentions, “I don’t know how he manages it, but his ground is almost pure peat in areas. The soil here at Coull is good but hard to work with, it’s gravelly, rocky and there are areas that are just sand. We know that some fields just aren’t suitable for planting, but a lot of work has gone in to drain the area properly.”
Last summer, Andrew was the first we know of to plant rye on Islay. He came to production director Allan Logan and asked “is there something else we could be trying”. It is this perspective that led to our first ever distillation of the flavourful crop.
The crop grows tall (around 5ft), growth inhibitors are necessary even, especially as the ground at Coull would be susceptible to lodging due to wind. The subsequent harvest was tricky. Coull’s combine had to take a cross-field approach to try and lift the grain into the cutting unit. Undeterred from the challenges of planting something with little prior experience, island rumour has it that he could be open to doing another round. Intentions are to plant this winter and leave dormant, to harvest next autumn.