Whisky Magazine Issue 100
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Ian Wisniewski asks how are new barley varieties developed and what are the differences between them?
Plant breeders are continually developing new varieties of barley that outperform the existing range, enabling farmers to achieve higher yields per hectare while distillers gain higher yields of spirit per tonne.
Developing new varieties requires significant investment but can bring serious financial rewards, as plant breeders retain ownership of the variety and earn royalties from seed sales.
It takes around six to 10 years of extensive trials by farmers, commercial maltings and distillers before a new variety is approved by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD).
Each year the IBD's Malting Barley Committee announces which varieties are approved for use in the following year. Barley varieties are initially given Provisional Approval 1, which may lead to Provisional Approval 2 or even Full Approval, but only if confirmed by additional test results.
Varieties approved for 2012 are Optic, Concerto, Oxbridge and Belgravia. Each variety has varying potential, with average yields being Concerto at around 5.7 tonnes per hectare, Oxbridge and Belgravia 5.5 tonnes, and Optic 5.3 tonnes (for comparison Golden Promise, which reigned supreme from the 1960s to the 80s, was around 4.5-7 tonnes per hectare).
However, each variety depends on the climate to attain an optimum yield, and each variety has different susceptibilities to weather patterns (and disease).
Steady rainfall is ideal when barley is sown in March-early April, whereas a drought would restrain development. Sun...