Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay have once again pushed at the boundaries of what it possible with a single malt whisky in their latest release, which has been distilled from an ancient grain that probably first arrived in Scotland with the Vikings, over a thousand years ago. Bere barley (pronounced “bear”) is one of the oldest cultivated cereals, originating in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. The fearsome Norsemen, who plundered ideas (and much else besides…) wherever they went, are known to have extended their reach south to the rivers Tigris and Euphrates and it is likely that they would have brought bere back with them to supply their further expeditions to Scotland as they first raided our coastline, then came to settle.
Although bere grows well in the Hebrides, seed is scarce, it is a difficult crop to harvest and produces less than 50% of the yield per acre that farmers expect from modern barley varieties. In collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Agronomy Institute at Orkney College, which provided the bere seed and agronomy advice about the crop, Dunlossit Estate on Islay, always great supporters of the innovative Bruichladdich, rose to the challenge and planted bere at Kynagarry Farm, in fields known as Achaba and Achfad in 2005. These fields had not been cultivated for a century or more, and so were chemical free. It represents a stimulating new avenue of discovery for the distillery’s ‘Uber Provenance’ range.
Bringing the ancient grain to harvest proved to be a struggle. Wild red deer helped themselves to a lot of the crop – they loved the long ears, each of which carries six rows of grain compared to the two rows found in modern varieties. Even when the combines had gathered what was left and our maltsters had scratched their heads over it, the grain played havoc with the Victorian milling and mashing machinery at the distillery, all of which dates back to when the Bruichladdich was built in 1881. The grist was much denser, richer even, than that produced from modern barley.
So the first release of Bere Barley, distilled in 2006, represents a lot of hard work and considerable heartache. But it is the latest expression of the core mission at Bruichladdich, to explore the pedigree of single malt and push the boundaries of what is it possible, often drawing inspiration from ancient traditions. The result was a spirit like no other, that has developed into a whisky with a nose that Master Distiller Jim McEwan describes as “disarming” with a palate that is “succulent”. McEwan continues: “It’s very impressive for a spirit so young, from a grain so old. There is an air of gentle grace and innocence that evolves from this spirit that I have never before experienced.”
This fascinating single malt is a very limited edition of 7,200 bottles at 50% abv. It is unpeated, a straw yellow colour, and in common with all Bruichladdich products has not been subject to either chill filtration or artificial colouring.
Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2006 will be available in limited quantity, on-line, from the Distillery whisky shop, and from selected retailers worldwide.