Bringing Back a Historical Malting Grain

Bere Barley

I really like cleaning grains by hand.  Both the satisfying ruckus raised by the clanging of threshing chains against the sides of a five gallon bucket, and the meditative process of screening and winnowing away the chaff, as people have done for millennia.  The Bere barley I’m cleaning this morning is possibly the oldest grain in continuous commercial production in the UK, where it was once widely cultivated for food, feed and malting. Bere’s footprint diminished to a handful of farms on Orkney Island, where it was preserved through the dedication of local mills, distilleries and research institutions, and a little help from Robbie Burns, whose poetic nod to the cultivar points to its cultural salience as a source of bread and whiskey.

Sustainable Seed Company received a small sample of Bere barley from the US National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, which we have been expanding every year to make larger quantities available for sale.  This spring planted barley is adapted to acidic soils and low input farming systems.  While it is more susceptible to lodging and some crop diseases than many modern cultivars, its versatility and history make it worthy of consideration, especially by the craft brewer.

Bruichladdich Bere Barley Whisky