Though it grew well, it was difficult to harvest and very hard to handle. Small quantities were brought in however, and we were genuinely excited when the first Bere malt came back from the maltsters.
But then disaster struck. Milled into a coarse grist, Bere proved so dense that it sheared the drive shaft of the raking mechanism in our mash tun, an ancient vessel that dates back to when the distillery was built in 1881. But after digging out tonnes of a sort of aromatic porridge, we persevered and were eventually rewarded with a quite extraordinary spirit.
Nine years later, the results of this small-scale experiment are emerging. An inevitably rather limited edition of just 18,000 bottles is being released to specialist whisky shops around the world. Head distiller Adam Hannett describes the new Bere whisky as: “Amazing. There are similarities in flavour profile to that created from regular Scottish barley but with more emphasis on the fruit and malt notes.”
The Islay farmers’ experiments with Bere are unlikely to be repeated in the short term, but work and harvests continue up on Orkney. The UHI results are being analysed and shared by the James Hutton Institute, the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Iceland, Copenhagen and other northern research organisations across Scandinavia and even Canada.
Bere is suddenly being taken very seriously indeed. It may or may not prove to be vital in securing food supplies for the generations to come, but in any event, we now know it makes a truly great dram.
Bruichladdich ‘Bere Barley 2008:Islay Grown’ is an unpeated, single vintage, single estate Islay single malt Scotch whisky.