We have, so far, had the perfect summer here on Islay. Brilliant blue skies punctuated by a day here and there of intense rainfall.
The barley crop growing for Bruichladdich across the island is as good as it has ever been in the ten years we have been working with Islay grown grain. It is also at its most beautiful right now. The delicate awns are still light and buoyant; they blow in staggered unison in the breezes, creating Mexican waves and ripples in the fields.
Whisky making is well suited to our northerly temperate clime: mild winters and plenty of rain are perfect for distillation and maturation while (usually) cool summers with lots of daylight hours provide perfect growing conditions for malting barley. Here on Islay we have a very intimate relationship with our precious raw material; we watch it grow, as Jim says, “like our children”.
The farmers may be quietly smiling, but long heatwaves don’t help us at all at the distillery. Production is just starting again after a ten day ‘silent season’. We always stop for two weeks maintenance in high summer. It is the most difficult time to distill because the heat speeds up fermentation and makes cooling during distillation more difficult. We need more water, but the gods deliver less. And we rely on colossal volumes of water here – a million litres a day; we can survive for about 3 weeks without rainfall and, so far, those gods have been kind. So far, our reservoir above the distillery, An Torran, has always seen us through. Just.
But we need a kiss of sunshine to help the barley grow and this year we have been blessed. Progress in the fields is well ahead of last year, – where some farmers almost lost their harvest to silage – and harvest may be a month earlier this time round. We don’t want to tempt fate, but it is looking like a perfect year for our Islay grown barley.
But as they say, it ain’t over until it’s over and the last combine goes to bed with the crop safely home… Please keep that sunshine coming…
Our pictures show Kilchiaran on the west coast of the Rhinns of Islay with a golden field of barley ripening up on the hill above the farm, and James Brown of Octomore at Lorgba with Loch Indaal and the Paps of Jura in the distance.