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Issue 67 - Dial M for malts

Whisky Magazine Issue 67
November 2007


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Dial M for malts

In our series looking at whisky terms we have reached the letter m. In the first of two features Dominic Roskrow looks at malts and malting.

It may well be that the romance of whisky making is epitomised by the shapes of the gleaming copper stills and the agitated liquid bubbling within, or symbolised by the aromas of maturing spirit in the bowels of a damp warehouse.

But the work horse part of whisky lies way before – in the malting and mashing,because if these relatively unglamorous areas of the process are wrong then everything that follows will be off-kilter, too.

More so than ever, in fact. I live among the wheat and barley fields of Norfolk,and my boys spent an afternoon on a combine harvester during harvest this year.The local farmers were relieved to get the grain out of the field – last year much of it was lost to the weather – but as the season progessed the face of farmer David next door got longer in direction proportion to the September evenings.

The fields of gold had a distinctly grey hue in England this year,and after a poor harvest last, there's not a lot of optimism round these parts.

Barley is becoming a rarer resource, partly because of the poor crop but partly also to demand.One beer brewer in the North West of England went as far as to blame Diageo for increasing the demand for barley as the new markets in Asia and the East open out. Furthermore, as farmers turn to wheat production to supply grain for environmentally friendly fuel, barley fields are being dug up.

All of which makes the need to maximise yields from what barley there is even greater, and you start to appreciate how c...

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