James Brown, of Octomore farm, joined us for a recent tasting of single cask Octomore whiskies – part of our Micro-Provenance series. He had this to say about his experience of growing the grain that is single malt’s chief ingredient.
James Brown: “We started growing barley, probably around 2006/7. It’s not easy. We’ve been doing it now for around ten years…
“So far, we’ve managed to make it a success. But, like all farming, it’s not all profit. The things that are quite against us: well, where we are, the type of land we have. We don’t get a huge tonnage, but what we do get, it’s quality when we get it.
“We’re also fighting – one of the main things is the deer. The deer just love the barley, and there’s more and more deer every year with us, and every time I see them in I think “there goes another couple of glasses of whisky”!
“And then, if we don’t get the barley harvested in the September, the geese are coming back, and the geese are quite devastating on the crop as well. And the other thing is the weather. Getting the crop down to the moisture content so that we can leave it down at Octofad [farm where the Islay-grown grain is dried and stored before malting], that’s a gamble.
“Having said all that, we love doing it. It works well with the distillery, and I’m quite sure we’re both winners at the end of the day, because they’re getting what they want – barley from the island, which seems to be going down well.
“On the mainland, they’re getting three tonnes to the acre, quite normal. We’ve still to reach two tonnes. And we’re doing our best. This year, we’re growing just over 60 acres of barley. Our ambition is to get 100 tonnes. Two years ago in the harvest, we got 99.6; just short. Last year, we weren’t so good; again, we were down at maybe 85. But this year, we’re hoping to get over 100. If we do, that’ll be tremendous.”