Bid to grow malt bar­ley on Raasay

The Oban Times - - News - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­

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.

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