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Issue 47 - Going organic

Whisky Magazine Issue 47
April 2005

 

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Going organic

Ian Wisniewski looks at whether the trend for organic proucts has a place in the world of malt whisky

Helping to make the world a more beautiful and sustainable place by drinking organic malt whisky is an evocative concept, with a few pioneering distilleries making this dream become a reality.

Although this is something of an innovation, it's also of course a return to traditional practice, when all malts were distilled from organic barley. Whether organic malts have something extra to offer, beyond ideology, depends on whether, and to what extent, organic barley can influence the character of a malt.

The first opinions to canvass are from farmers rather than distillers.

William Rose is among the few Scottish farmers cultivating organic malting barley, at Mid Coul and Culblair farms in Dalcross, Inverness. Certified by The Scottish Organic Producers Association, his first organic barley variety was chariot in 1995, though chalice is now the main variety.

“Chalice performs remarkably well within the organic system,” says William Rose. “It doesn't suffer greatly from any given disease, seems not to absorb high levels of nitrogen, and is a good all-round performer.”

Nitrogen levels are crucial, as higher levels mean a lower starch content and a lower yield of alcohol. Organic barley typically has higher nitrogen levels than non-organic, raised by factors such as using animal fertiliser, although climate can also influence the nitrogen levels of organic and non-organic barley.

Non-organic farming sees nitrogen added to the soil within a compound fertiliser, usually ...

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