Barley has been grown in west Wales for as long as our farming friends can remember. ‘Barley Saturday’ (sadly missing from the diary again this year) has long been a marker in the Cardigan calendar and a time for the community to come together. This festival rooted in the local seasonal ebb and flow marks the sowing of the final crop – barley. Traditionally, Welsh barley has been sold on as animal feed and it’s been a key step in our progress to a fully Welsh whisky to demonstrate the suitability of Welsh barley for malting and distilling, brewing and other Welsh origin food and drink products.
The traditional place for Welsh barley
Production of barley that most commonly finds its way into whisky production is prevalent on the east of the UK. So why not Wales? It seems that the use of Welsh barley to produce malt in Wales stopped with changes in beer production. Key players in the malting industry were located in the east of England. Barley production shifted in that direction. Investigations suggest that Welsh barley is still used for malting, but it is shipped over to England and comes back to Wales mixed with barley from other areas as generic ‘malt’.
Proving the concept of a Welsh malting barley
In our drive to produce a 100% Welsh grain to glass whisky, Welsh barley is vital. 2020 saw us take that first step, working with local farmers to grow 4 different varieties of barley for assessment and consideration for malting. As we move now from malting to fermentation and distillation, the results of all our experimentation have shown that Welsh barley grown here in west Wales is suitable for producing whisky. Whatever the factors shifting barley production and malting east, we see every reason to bring it back west, introducing new and interesting ways of getting the best out of our grain, as we do so.
Welsh barley’s future in Welsh whisky
With this knowledge, we can consider how this could benefit Wales as a whole. Industry collaboration? The development of a centralised malting facility? Farming Co-operatives? We’ve shared our findings with Welsh Government and other interested organisations. The next question is: how do we now move this forward?