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Heritage barley could create new whiskies

Experts from Heriot-Watt University are experimenting with eight heritage barley varieties, including a 200-year-old crop, to discover whether ‘distinctive’ new whiskies could be created for Holyrood Distillery.

Barley Holyrood
The eight varieties of barley will be tested over the next six years

The researchers from the university’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) are working with Holyrood Distillery in Edinburgh to find out whether old species of barley could produce new whiskies.

Over the next six years, the barley will be tested to provide the scientific evidence needed to classify the flavours and aromas they bring to a dram.

Doctor Calum Holmes from Heriot-Watt’s ICBD said: “New varieties of malting barley are developed regularly to improve processability and agronomic traits, and its not uncommon to find some predominate the industry for a period of time.

“There’s hope that using these heritage varieties of barley might allow for recovery of favourable aroma characteristics into distillate and some have also displayed potential resilience to stresses that might be expected from in a changing climate.”

The 200-year-old Chevallier is one of the varieties they’ll be distilling, which was once popular in Britain until tax rules changed causing it to fall ‘out of favour’.

Experts will also test Hana barley, which was originally grown in Moravia in the the Czech Republic and was used to make the first blond Pilsner lager in 1842.

Additionally, Golden Promise barley from the 1960s will be distilled, which grows predominantly on the east coast of Britain. It is best known as the barely behind the iconic Macallan bottlings from the 1960s.

Holyrood Distillery is hoping to produce new single malts from the initiative, as the research team explores the impact of using heritage barley varieties on malt and distillate quality.

Marc Watson, head of spirit operations at Holyrood Distillery, said: “We’re a young distillery and that means we have the freedom to experiment and be playful.

“We decided to try making some mashes and distillations with Chevallier. It was fascinating. The first thing we noticed was an oilier mouth texture, it had a great mouth feel.

“We think there are clear sensory differences with using heritage barleys, but we wanted to back it up with science.”

The research will also focus on the ‘interplay’ between grain production and composition, and the ‘impact on distillery processing efficiency’ .

“Luckily we have the world-famous Heriot-Watt right here in Edinburgh, and this is the second time we’re working with them.

“Understanding what each heritage barley brings to the flavour, mouthfeel and aroma of whisky means we can design incredible drams.

“It’s using innovation to bring back characteristics that have been lost by switching to newer varieties of barley, flavours and aromas that haven’t been present in whisky for decades if not longer.”

In September last year, Holyrood Distillery released a new blended rum, called Rum Union.

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