Down in Hampshire, our farmers Fordham & Allen are spending the month of August harvesting 2022s bumper spring barley crop. But whilst in previous years we have been working with Concerto – now we will be distilling with Laureate.
Historically other cereals such as oats and rye were used by distilleries to produce whisky in the UK. But it is the hardiness, extractability and character of barley that has come to define both the style and flavour of malt whisky.
There are a large number of varieties of barley utilised to produce whisky – some selected because of their potential yield (starch content), others because of their lower protein levels (% of nitrogen). Irrespective, all distillers look for barley varieties which possess high diastatic power. Diastatic power (DP) is a measurement of the volume of enzymes produced during germination which allow for the conversion of starch into sugars – in other words, the key to unlocking the barley kernels’ potential for producing alcohol.
Whilst there are over 5,000 strains of barley – only around 10 of these are regularly utilised for the production of whisky. And most of these are modern two-row spring barley varietals. Two-row spring barley is shorter growing and better able to cope with adverse climate conditions. It is also efficient, providing a yield of around three tonnes per acre, which equates to roughly 400 litres of spirit per tonne.
For many years, Concerto has been the ‘benchmark’ barley variety for whisky production across the UK – and indeed, much of Bimber’s single malt whisky to date has been produced using this particular strain. However, as the extractability of Concerto gradually declines, distilleries – including Bimber - have been moving toward utilising Laureate.
Laureate *is* different to Concerto – it possesses a greater malt and cereal forward character. And this bears out in subtle differences to the produced distillate. However, whether these nuances are detectable in the final whisky will very much depend on the time spent maturing and the style of casks used. We’re looking forward to finding out!
This year’s harvest at Fordham & Allen has been the quickest and easiest harvest for many years due to the exceptionally warm, dry weather we’ve been having in the UK this year. The results in terms of the quality of the malt produced are outstanding – with very high levels of extract and fermentability – both of which will directly translate into remarkably complex aromas and flavours of our future London single malt whisky.
For now we wait for the delivery of this particularly high quality barley – and look forward to sharing the fruits of our and our farmers labour with you in a few years’ time!