We recently received the first box of four Billy&Co new make spirit samples from Crafty Distillery. The Billy&Co new make spirit is a direct result of our Early Evaluation Programme (EEP) and we were delighted to receive them.
The Early Evaluation Programme is a trials programme run by Bairds Malt and our merchanting partners (Scotgrain Agriculture) to help identify and evaluate new barley varieties for introduction into the UK market. Over 20 new varieties are grown each year in different trial plots, with micro malting then undertaken by Bairds to test the suitability of each crop for introduction on a commercial scale.
While there may only be a few simple ingredients that make whisky, there is a much broader complexity to the flavour profile that can be achieved through the distillation process. We were approached by Crafty Distillery to help them on this journey of discovery and explore how new malt varieties can help to fine-tune their spirit profile.
Through our EEP, we identify and trial new varieties each year from which to build a sustainable future for the industry, and it was this research that captured the imagination of Crafty Distillery’s Head Distiller, Craig Rankin.
“We’re committed to exploring the full spirit profile,” said Craig. Talking about how barley varieties could help achieve this, Craig said, “Smooth-wise, the problem is that alcohols tend to burn, thanks to the VR1 receptor in our mouths. Triggered at 42 degrees Celsius, this receptor is usually your friend, letting you know the coffee you’re drinking is too hot. But, alcohols tricks your receptor into reducing the trigger temperature below body temperature – making you think this liquid is ‘hot’.”
Craig goes on to explain how they solve this problem: “The ‘bad’ alcohols trick the mouth’s receptor more than ethyl, so we’ll look at the relationship between purity and how that impacts the end result. We’ll also test ways to comfort the receptor as a tipple slips down. This means testing oil contents within our barley varieties – and finding the best way to influence this along the production line.”
After consultation with Bairds, Crafty Distillery chose to explore three barley varieties that are a good representation of mainstream distilling varieties and see how they compare to new up-and-coming strains identified through our EEP.
Laureate, Sassy and Diablo are strains that have been identified through our EEP, with all three varieties having been approved for both brewing and distilling use.
Laureate now holds over 50% of the UK spring malting barley market and is a current favourite amongst UK growers, with high yields in both fungicide-treated and untreated UK trials.
Born out of our ongoing research through our Early Evaluation Programme, Sassy represents Bairds’ ongoing commitment to provide a sustainable barley supply to support our malting expansions in the United Kingdom. Our Early Evaluation Programme also helps to ensure that new barley varieties are providing benefit to all elements of the supply chain, from the grower through to the end customer. Sassy is a big, bold barley variety, particularly well suited to the variable conditions of growing in the Scottish climate and providing a consistently higher yield to the grower.
Diablo is one of the latest varieties to emerge from the Malting Association of Great Britain trials, and was fully approved and continues to grow its share of the UK spring barley market. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it processes well and its hot water extract is of a similar level to that of Concerto – a characteristic that helped Concerto to become a benchmark variety.
Crafty Distillery recognise that older and heirloom varieties, like that of Concerto, are still relevant when experimenting with barley strains, but wanted to focus on newer varieties in aid of supporting a sustainable future for the industry.
Exploring barley varieties is a process that can offer opportunities for distillers, but it is also critical to Bairds’ sustainability objectives, and to ensure the best available yield for UK growers. Each year, Bairds Malt requires approx 300,000 mt of UK-grown barley to meet their production requirements. As Project Angel comes onboard and our new maltings opens in Inverness, this will rise to approx 360,000 mt of barley required.
“The Early Evaluation Programme is a central part of our business” said Scotgrain’s Seed Manager, Iain Davies. “Trialling new varieties in multiple geographic areas over multiple harvests allows us to analyse the potential of each crop type. We then undertake a micro malting process for varieties that show potential at that stage, with a selection of customers then using those same varieties in a distilling and brewing process. These rigorous processes ensure that the varieties that come through can bring benefit to all stages of the supply chain.”
As a maltster with nearly 200 years of experience, it is Bairds’ privilege to work with many of the world’s leading distillers, both large and small. As we look forward to our new malting plant opening in Inverness next year, we’re also looking at opportunities of how some of our existing 10 SGKV boxes can be further used to help support small malt batch requirements.
In the meantime, Graham, our Commercial Sales Manager at Bairds, has been entrusted with tasting the new make Billy&Co spirit samples and providing Crafty Distillery with feedback from which to fine-tune their flavour profiles. The samples represent the beginning of an exciting new partnership between one of the UK’s oldest maltsters and one of the UK’s newest whisky distilleries.
If you’d like more information on our Early Evaluation Programme, or how we can help support your distilling plans, we’d be pleased to hear from you.