Bruichladdich Brand Ambassador Joanne Brown, brand Academy Host Kate Hannett and tour guides Chloe Wood and Raymond Tibbs took a trip up to Inverness to visit Bairds Malt last week on a fact finding mission to experience the malting process at first hand.
Visits to Bairds have been routine for Bruichladdich production managers over the years but this was an ideal opportunity for the team behind our education, visitor and promotional programmes to acquaint themselves with this fascinating, and fundamental, stage in the journey to distillation.
The Malting Process
All Bruichladdich malt is produced at Baird’s with whom we have a long standing relationship. The maltster has a unique series of ‘Saladin’ type boxes which handle 49 tonnes of grain at a time. These boxes are essentially large rectangular rooms with a slatted floor through which water and air, but not barley, can pass. The size of these Saladin boxes, the smallest in Scotland, are of vital importance to Bruichladdich because they mean Baird’s are able to handle the small batch sizes that we require to preserve the provenance and traceability that is so central to our barley exploration series.
At the time of our visit, one of the Saladin boxes was malting a batch of barley for Bruichladdich that forms part of our ‘Regional Trials’ – an experimental programme during which we are exploring the variation in character between barley grown in different regions of mainland Scotland.
Barley, water, air (and sometimes peat smoke) are the only ingredients used to make our malt. When barley is harvested on farms across mainland Scotland and on Islay, it is dried to reduce the moisture content down to around 12% and stored, usually for several months to bring it into optimum condition. Tests determine that it is of suitable quality and that the batch will achieve the necessary germination rate, which must be greater than 98%.
The aim of the maltster is to induce germination of the barley, prompting the individual grains to generate enzymes that have the potential to convert the starches stored in the grain into sugars during mashing. One of the many skills of the maltster is in stopping this germination at precisely the right moment. This ensures that the enzymes are preserved so that when they are reactivated by hot water in the mash tun at the distillery, they are able to convert the starches into the sugars that make up the sweet wort that goes forward to fermentation in the washbacks.