The Organic Perspective


We have now been distilling organic grain since 2003, fourteen years that have seen new questions rise to the forefront of all our minds. Our original idea was to explore using organic barley to see whether there were any flavour benefits, although the motivation was not so much whether organic would be taste better – but rather would it taste different?  That question was addressed very quickly, because the sensory differences were startling – there was a creaminess to our new make organic spirit that was not present in spirit from conventional barley.

The flavour question having been settled, we are now increasingly aware that there are also ethical as well as sensory issues to consider – should we be supporting organic farming simply because it is the right thing to do?

Organic products may taste different and some may even argue that they are better for us, but surely Bruichladdich are not going to argue that drinking organic whisky is somehow beneficial?  Well, no, we are not. Certainly not in the rather self-centred sense of benefit to the individual, but what about the bigger picture?

Most of the civilised world realises that we are facing human induced global warming that is driving dramatic climate change. We all need to adjust our lifestyles. Could thinking, and drinking, organically help?

Not that long ago, all farming was organic.  The world’s human population was a tiny fraction of what it is today and agriculture largely horse-powered.  Soil fertility was maintained using composts, manure and through crop rotation. The big change only happened recently, during the middle decades of the 20th century, when a combination of agro-chemical development, mechanization and the successful breeding of high-yielding varieties of staple crops transformed the world.  Led by American agronomist and humanitarian Norman Borlaug, the Green Revolution as it became known was credited with saving over a billion people from starvation.

A billion people. That is quite a legacy. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 but we now know that his genius came at a price. Damage to the environment from the unintended impacts of the Green Revolution is now so great that some say the very survival of civilisation as we know it is threatened unless we change course.

An organic approach may provide some of the answers, but surely not by returning to yesteryear, to some sepia tinged idyll.  There is another, progressive view of organic farming, and it is a million miles from that horse-drawn retrospective.  It is an uber-high-tech-vision of the future. Could organic farming save us from ourselves?

Our most recent edition of Bruichladdich The Organic was distilled in 2010 from the 2009 harvest at Mid Coul

Modern farming relies heavily on the addition of petrochemical based fertilisers being added to the land to replace the nutrients drawn from it by the crop.  This has a number of short term benefits, one of the most important being that the same crop can be grown on the same land for a number of seasons in succession without the land becoming exhausted.

There are a number of problems associated with growing the same crop on the same ground over and over again though.  It is very easy for insect pests, weeds and fungal infestations to become established, which can be devastating if they are allowed to take hold.  So farmers growing the same crop on the same ground year after year with the aid of agrichemical fertilizers are forced to use insecticides to control the insects, herbicides to control the weeds and fungicides to control the fungus.  If they don’t deploy this chemical weaponry, they risk losing the lot.

The results are plain for everyone to see.  A well-managed field of conventionally-grown barley is an extraordinary achievement, but it is a monoculture. It may look impressive, but there will be no hum of insects, no birds singing or scatter of poppies and cornflowers, just a uniform sea of grain. This is marvellous for farming yields and food prices, but potentially disastrous for our environment. Most of us realise, deep down, that this is unsustainable.

Organic farming does not use petrochemical fertilizers, or insecticides, herbicides or fungicides.

The Scottish barley we used to distill our latest release of organic single malt was grown organically by Mid Coul Farms, an uber-sophisticated company employing hi-tech 21st century solutions to some of these problems.

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