It would not have been that long ago that most distilleries would have sourced their barley from within their locality or at the very least their own country to meet their needs. As production of most distilleries grew and consolidation took hold of the industry, efficiency and cost have become the leading factor in the production of spirits for most distilleries.
They will bandy about the origins, history and lore of their locality but very little of that applies anymore. If your barley is grown in France, is malted in Scotland and then trucked to the Isle of Skye to be distilled. The then resulting new make is put in a tanker and shipped to Fife to be aged, can it still truly be called a maritime malt?
There are many in the Scotch whisky industry that will tell you that the barley variety and provenance add little to nothing to the flavour of the whisky. Yet in most other spirit and beverage categories they have doubled down on the importance of terroir (yes an overused word), variety and climate, it is intrinsic to the creation of the DNA of their product.
The truth for these conglomerates is that it just doesn’t fit their mode of operation, it is contrary to the way their businesses are run. Dealing with the minutiae of sourcing, the variability of crop outcome and of production that come with this model is contrary to their structure. They could charge more for the result, certainly that is appealing but it would invariably cost more to produce and require more hands on deck and that they can’t live with. Besides in their mind the average client cares little and if you use the right smoke and mirrors that are lore, legend and scarcity you keep them from looking too closely.
Just food for thought, I’m not saying local is best nor the only way to do things, I am just weary of many talking from both sides of their mouth at once, locality and history is only important when they say it is, much like age.
2009 crop from eight Islay farms from Uxbridge & Optic unpeated barley distilled 2010, 7 years old, majority first-fill Bourbon with some Rivesaltes, Jurançon & Banyuls casks vatted in.
Nose: Waxy lemons, a little struck match, melons, wet hay, loads of barley a little bit of vermouth. There’s a touch of cured ham, an oily almost shoe polish feel but nonetheless that air of freshness.
With time I feel like there’s a kind of slight wine cask type of influence earthy, blackberries, slight touch of olive and aniseed.
Palate: Peppery, oily & spicy. Sweet frosting, loads of musky fruit, salty ham, green coriander seeds a bit of green bell pepper. It really pulls your taste buds in many directions.
Finish: It finishes dry, a bit of cardboard and astringent fruit, cooked barley, caraway and spicy oak.
Blab: A nice whisky, the palate starts off the same as the nose but then it feels as if the wine casks take over. A bit of funk. Astringency and that earthy fruit thing, more a summery kind of whisky. I have preferred others in the series especially the 2007 Rockside farm release.
As with many of these Islay Barley whiskys it is hard to know if what you are tasting is due in part to the locality of the crop or not, it would be great to have comparison whisky of the same age and vatting but from a mainland crop to see the difference. That’s the whisky nerd in me talking.
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010