Bid to grow malt barley on Raasay
TRIALS are taking place on Raasay to establish if it is possible to grow barley suitable for whisky on the island.
R&B Distillers, which is in the process of building a distillery on the island, is on a mission to find a variety that ripens well and has a low enough moisture content for malting.
With a Celtic well on site providing access to the high mineral content water, as well as a plentiful supply of peat in the north of the island, the distiller was curious to investigate if it would be possible to create a ‘truly local whisky’.
The five barleys being tested are bere, concerto, tartan, iskria and kannas, and were sown in April. Bere barley was grown on Raasay 40 years ago and is a traditional and very early maturing Scottish barley. Concerto is the most widely grown UK malting barley, tartan is a variety which had a provisional recommendation for distilling and which was grown for several years in Orkney for Highland Park Distillery, iskria is an Icelandic variety, and kannas is a very early Swedish variety.
Once R&B has found a suitable variety, the barley will be sent away to be malted using Raasay peat. The barley will then be returned to the distillery and used to create a lightly-peated Raasay single malt.
Advice and support from neighbouring farmers has been ‘ vital’ to the project, said the distillery. Andrew Gillies, along with John Gillies and Alasdair MacAskill, have disked, ploughed, rolled and sown the land as well as broadcasting it with lime and fertiliser.
A distillery spokesperson said: ‘This has all been made possible with the knowledge and help of Peter Martin of the Highlands and Islands University Agronomy Institute.’
She added: ‘If the trials are successful, R&B Distillers intends to hold an open day for local farmers and crofters to see the results as well as hear about the future of barley growing on Raasay.
‘R&B plans to offer local farmers and crofters an alternative crop to grow, with a guaranteed end customer. Working directly with the primary producer, R&B will shorten its supply chain and offer an agreed price for any crofters on Raasay, Skye or Kyle that can grow the successful variety for distillery use.’
The long-term objective for the distillers is to grow enough barley on Raasay, Skye and Kyle to produce a single malt from 100 per cent locally grown barley.
The spokesperson added: ‘ While acknowledging this whisky may only be a small percentage of total production, R&B is keen to challenge the limitations of production in such a remote and unusual location.’
Five varieties of barley are being grown on Raasay.