Arctic Barley

Is it possible to produce Whisky made from Arctic barley?


Project start – spring 2019

In Northern Norway, Barley was the most important grain until the Second World War. Barley can withstand the harsh climate here north and has been an important trade route for us for hundreds of years. This is documented through NIBIO/Holt Research Farm’s work.
The main aim of the project is to produce the world’s northernmost Barley and/or malt, for whisky production, in collaboration with local farmers in Northern Norway, research expertise from UiT / Holt research farm and expertise from the Scottish Whisky Industry.

We received funding from Innovation Norway and SkatteFunn (Research Council of Norway) to conduct the project.

The first phase was finding farmers willing to contribute to the project. We were able to find three farmers in the Lyngen area. One of them had previously sown barley on one of his fields. The Barley we chose was “Brage” and “Floy”, which were sown at three different locations in early May 2019.

Summer 2019 – Growing

The barley was sown in 3 different locations on the Lyngen peninsula. However, on one of the fields, the local crows discovered the taste of barley, and ate all of it!

The two other fields yielded some barley, just enough for further test purposes.

Test batch – August 2019

We were lucky enough to get some barley, which was grown in 2018. We took it to Mack microbrewery in Tromsø, milled it and brewed a small batch using Mack’s equipment.

We used a very old yeast-strand, called “KVEIK”, for fermenting our wash. This yeast is a very old and traditional farmers yeast, which has been used for almost 1,000 years for brewing beer in Norway.

After a week of fermentation, the beer/wash was ready. We reached an alcohol level of 4,6 % abv. The wash was then distilled twice and put on a small test cask (3 l.) at ABV 63%. This is the “Lyngen cask”.

Second test batch, January 2020

Second batch of Arctic barley was fermented at Mack microbrewery in Tromsø. This batch was made from 320 kg of Barley from Alta (210 km east of the distillery). The wash produced from 100% Arctic unmalten barley (Heder, 6 Row).

We did a relatively long fermentation with Norwegian Kveik yeast @30°C.

The taste of the new make was very sweet, with lot’s of mandarin aroma.

The new make was laid in a 50 l. VO cask at 63% ABV.

Growing and harvesting, 2020

Despite a very hard winter (snow would not leave the ground until june), the “Heder” barley was put in the ground on 3 different locations in Arctic Norway

Harvesting the 2020 barley

We experienced different growing patterns in the different fields, and were sceptical towards the result. But 2020 proved to be a very good arctic summer, with plenty of sunny days, good temperatures and some necessary rain showers. Actually in August there was an intensive period of rain which we feared would ruin the whole harvest. But when we reached the end of September the barley was matured and ready for harvesting.

We did the harvesting late september 2020. It was a fantastic day and we were really happy with the results. We were so fortunate to have an experienced barley farmer, Benjamin Hykkerud, as a mentor during the harvest day.

(Stay tuned for updates during 2021)