Single malts exist all over the world in various shapes and sizes, and few scottish malt producers talk much about the flavour of the grain they use. Instead, it’s a lot of focus on yeast and maturation - perhaps because mostly they all use the same barley!
One of my “wow” moments in my whisky journey was visiting Westland distillery during the past year. I was able to taste new make distillates produced by Westland which are made from different varieties of barley. Westland is involved at the front end not only of whisky production, but also barley breeding, working closely with the grain genius Dr. Steve Jones (of Washington State University). Westland partners with Dr. Jones to breed barley varietals for flavour in whisky production. Successfully breeding a new strain of barley takes about ten years, if the strain is a success. What whisky producer wants to add ten years on the front end of an already long process!? I’m sure glad they do. Let me describe a few new makes from different varieties:
Copeland is the most commonly grown species of barley in the USA. This new make is the most like their whisky, with strong fruity notes and a rich grain base and slight spice. Rich, fruity, and clean.
NZ151 (Ricard) Barley
Sharply fruity, with lots of dried fruit notes. It’s also more earthy and definitely more spicy. Very unique – this is my second favourite of the distillates.
More “simply” grain – the grain comes forward more at the centre here than in any of the other new makes, with candied fruit still playing around in the background. This is nice – I quite like the grain forward nature. However, it isn’t as complex as the other distillates, and it is ever so slightly astringent.
Purple Obsidian Barley
Incredible – rich barley, pine –evolving over time. It is abundant in flavour: rose, rich rice, jasmine tea, licorice, clove, Campbell’s tomato soup, and green tea. This is absolutely phenomenal – rich, complex, balanced, textured. Excellent.