Why Scottish Barley? The Romance and the Reality


At Bruichladdich, we use 100% Scottish barley.  Always. That is a powerful statement to make in our modern world, where raw materials are reduced to traded commodities and it seems only scandal exposes fake provenance. Most of us agree that we don’t want our beef burgers to be made from horsemeat, but does it matter if Scotch whisky is made from barley bought from who-knows-where on the open market? Barley is barley. Isn’t it?

We don’t think so.

That there is a romantic element to our determination to source our core ingredient from Scotland is impossible to deny.  We are romantics at heart, renegades and dream makers. We are proud to to look people in the eye and say that our Scotch is truly a product of Scotland, made from Scottish barley.  We believe it is called Scotch for a reason.

This might make us feel good, but is there any objective rationale behind it?  Does using Scottish barley make any difference to the taste of what we make?  We have a long and deep relationship with our maltsers, Bairds of Inverness, who are our partners rather than suppliers in this great exploration of barley. They, like us, are quite sure this isn’t just romantic gesturing.

The unique combination of the ideal climate, high latitude and soil types found in Scotland makes the Scottish barley crop perfect for creating the optimum flavour profile when distilling for whisky. There is hard-nosed scientific evidence to back this up because the reality is that Scottish barley is relatively low in nitrogen compared to barley crops from elsewhere in the world, which are optimal for other purposes, such as brewing beer.

How has this come about? Washed by the Gulf Stream, Scotland’s climate is kept cool, wet and maritime. It is hard to believe that the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are further north than Moscow, Copenhagen, or Adak in Alaska, but they are. Steeped in the warm Atlantic current, Scotland sits at a very high latitude, giving it long, light, summers (and long dark winters) with a growing season that extends to 150 days.

Scottish barley, sown early in the spring and harvested late in the summer takes its time and is utterly unique. It is believed to be the slowest growing barley in the world.

We believe in slow. We believe in Scottish barley.

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