E-Malt.com News article: UK: Demand for barley set to grow as distilleries expand
Scotch whisky is enjoyed in more than 200 countries across the world, with distilleries buying more than £200 mln worth of cereals to produce the sprit, Farmers Weekly reported on October 19.
And without farmers growing barley and wheat - blended spirits are made with a mix of the two, while single malt is made with 100% barley - the industry would be without its key ingredients.
"Farmers are critical to the success of Scotch whisky," says Julie Hesketh-Laird, director of operational and technical affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association.
"Cereals are the biggest raw material and one of the major costs to the industry. It's critical that we get the volume and quality we require - farmers are at the heart of that."
As distilleries expand - about 80-90 mln litres of capacity has gone online in the past few years and 20-30 mln litres more are planned - the demand for good-quality cereals is set to grow, she adds.
"I guess key to this is to make sure we have enough of the quality cereal. Distillers are looking for distill yield and farmers are looking for agronomic yield - volumes are going to be crucial," explains Ms Hesketh-Laird.
Although regulations don't stipulate that the grain used has to be Scottish, figures from 2010 show 88% of the barley used for Scotch whisky production was sourced from Scottish farmers, adds Ms Hesketh-Laird.
In the past, malting was done in-house, but due to the large scale of the industry, the majority of barley is sourced and malted via maltsters, who then sell the malted grain on to distilleries.
Scottish maltsters work close to capacity, buying 9,000 tonnes of barley a year - with 85% destined for distilling - so any extra has to be imported as malt from England or continental Europe.
The key to whisky production is barley with low nitrogen content, high starch content and a low dormancy period, says Keith Cruickshank, distillery manager at Benromach, Forres.
"High protein gives us problems in distillation. This is why we want low nitrogen so we get more whisky yield. We want a barley variety with little dormancy. Really we want a barley to get malting straight away," he says.
Alan Winchester, master distiller at Glenlivet, explains: "The lower the nitrogen [in the grain] the more sugar is available to use and that produces plenty of alcohol. We ask the maltsters for barley samples and we will accept a nitrogen range."
Both Mr Winchester and Mr Cruickshank say the key to continued supply of their vital ingredient is ensuring farmers retain an attractive premium for growing malting barley.
23 October, 2013