Chain of Sunshine Supply

Image: Loch Lomond Distillery
Image: Loch Lomond Distillery

It was George Bernard Shaw who called whisky ‘liquid sunshine’. Given the outdoorsy characteristics of two of the three key single malt raw materials, namely barley and water (the third being yeast), sunshine does actually figure in quite heavily. Both at the beginning, and as Shaw said, at the end.

A quarter of all barley produced in the UK comes from Scotland. There are winter and spring crops of barley, but only the low-nitrogen barley of the spring crop is used for whisky. Of the 1.5 million tonnes of barley produced in Scotland in 2011, over half went into the distilling process. Barley varieties are the subject of research and optimization: In 1965, a new kind of barley called Golden Promise replaced older, less tasty varieties. Since then, the advantages of Golden Promise have been augmented by new types that offer higher yields, like Optic and Chariot. As in most products, the fewer the ingredients, the more important the quality of each ingredient will be.

The production chain for Scotch whisky, from field and stream to bottle, is almost uniquely Scottish, and local efforts aim to keep that chain unbroken from beginning to end. When the demand for malting barley is low, Scottish farmers look to other crops (including other distilling crops, like wheat). When the demand is high, more barley is planted. The summer rains of 2012 prompted a rare year of importation when the local barley crop had a lower-than-expected yield. The imports came mostly from the northern UK, with a smidgen from Denmark.

I wonder if, when this whisky comes to market in eleven years, anyone will comment on the slightly different taste due to the unusual south-of-the-border and Danish barley content? Note it for discussion in your tasting calendars for 2024, please.

And here, in anticipation of the 2024 Scotch tasting and in honor of Mr. Shaw’s description of whisky, a slightly different version of You Are My Sunshine: