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Issue 39 - Working on the malt line

Whisky Magazine Issue 39
May 2004


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Working on the malt line

What are the advantages of commercial maltsters, and why do some distilleries still have their own floor maltings? Ian Wisniewski reports

Embodying a sense of heritage and craftsmanship, floor maltings enable the entire production cycle to be undertaken at the distillery, rather than ordering in ‘convenience malt.' But various factors (beyond evocative photo opportunities for brochures) are involved in the decision to retain floor maltings, which includes The Balvenie, Bowmore, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Springbank.

With malted barley accounting for around 55-60 per cent of the cost of producing new make spirit, floor maltings are also more labour intensive and less cost-effective than commercial maltsters, requiring more staff and space. Highland Park's dedicated maltman and four kilnmen, for example, operate on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis, including night shifts, but excluding technology.

“Opening or closing doors or windows is our level of automation. Floor maltings are down to the skill and experience of our guys and Mother Nature,” says Russell Anderson, Highland Park's production manager. He adds that even a strong wind in an adverse direction can complicate kilning.

Potential differences in spirit yield are another consideration. “Floor malted barley can give a lower spirit yield compared to commercial maltsters. Thiscan be 5-8 litres per ton less on average, so it can be a significant additional cost factor,” says Ian Millar, distillery manager at The Balvenie and The Glenfiddich.

Spirit yields can also be compounded by a poor harvest, the most recent disappointment being 2002 (too...

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