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Bruichladdich pioneers Scotland-wide terroir experiment

Bruichladdich Distillery has developed its exploration of the effect terroir has on the flavour of whisky in a Scotland-wide experiment.

Barley Scotch whisky
The area in which barley is grown could become a more important factor in Scotch whisky production

Believed to be the first of its kind, the trial has seen master distiller Jim McEwan extend the distillery’s focus on terroir beyond Islay’s shores for the first time to take in the whole of Scotland.

If successful, McEwan claims, the experiment could see terroir become more prominent within the Scotch whisky category, in much the same way as wine.

McEwan has been working with farmers in eight segmented regions of Scotland, who have each been growing 100 tonnes of Concerto barley in exactly the same way for the past four years.

The barley is then malted separately, but in the same way, and shipped to Islay where it is mashed, distilled and lain down in American oak casks one batch at a time. Even the casks lay next to each other in the warehouse to ensure even maturation.

McEwan said: “The difference of the flavour from region to region is superb. In the north of Scotland the soil is different to the west and east coast, as is the barley that grows inland as opposed to the barley that is coastal.

“Every day our barley gets salty rain because the wind comes from the west in Islay, and it is strong so the barley has to go down deep with its roots to withstand the pressure. The way the different conditions manifests itself in the new spirit is quite magical, and the difference is still there as the maturation continues.”

Terroir collection

Bruichladdich expects to release the findings as a collection of six bottlings, to allow consumers to discover the differences between the regions.

“If you said to the guys in Burgundy you can make the same grape in Bordeaux they would kill you, because the soil is different, McEwan added. “That’s the ethos of the great wine producers.

“We believe in it, and will continue to do this year upon year so that we are able to come to the market in a few years and say to the consumer, ‘would you like to taste barley from the Black Isle in Inverneshire, or Aberdeenshire or Perthshire or the west coast, or central Scotland or the Scottish borders?’ We do it because we can and so we can learn for future generations.”

Bruichladdich’s terroir experiment is just one major Scotch whisky innovation explored in The Spirits Business March 2015 issue, out now.

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