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Scotch Whisky by John Lamond

Scotland has just had its warmest and driest November on record, which has allowed farmers and distillers to optimistically hope for a good winter barley harvest. And after the dreadful conditions from October 2015 to February 2016, where much of the winter barley was washed away, we could do with a decent harvest.

From a modern distiller's perspective, the grain industry has been improving yields for the past century and more, with these outcomes: (a) this increased yield has helped to keep costs and prices down, and (b) the newer varieties are easier to grow and much easier to process. Currently, though, there are a number of distillers and farmers who are experimenting with ancient barley varieties. The bere that Robert Burns wrote about in the 18th century (also "beer" and "bear" -- spelling wasn’t very accurate or consistent at the time) is the grain first introduced to Scotland by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago.

Isle of Arran was the first modern distillery to produce a spirit from bere barley when they partnered with the University of the Highlands and Islands' Orkney College in 2004. That year, they bottled The Arran Malt Orkney Bere -- a 10-year-old cask strength (56.2% abv) whisky made with bere barley grown on Orkney.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2017 issue of Scottish Life.

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