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.
Jægervatnet / Arctic Lyngen
Barley planted too shallow
Crows ate it all.
Summer 2019 – Growing and first test batch
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.
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
The last year’s we’ve experimented with barley varieties that withstand the harsh Arctic conditions that we can grow in our backyard. After lots of fallen stems and losses to the raven we’ve settled on a variety called Héder. Short sturdy stems with a quick growth during our very short frost free season exposed almost constantly with daylight.
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.
We have invested in machinery and are now the proud owners of two harvesters since no one in hours drive owns any that we could have rented. We collaborate with farmers to grow the grain. A learning phase for everyone.
Processing the 2020 barley (2021)
Turning the barley into malt is another tricky part that involves deep biochemistry. Héder is not the easiest variety to turn into malt. Long dormancy and slow germination is time consuming with plenty of losses due to immature kernels. Tyson, our friend at Bonsak Malt down the coast is the perfect guy for such a task. Tyson supported Benedict on his work carried out at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh as a supervisor and took on the task to turn our local harvest into malt. A very manual labour especially as floor malting requires a lot of regular turning by hand. No wonder those shoulders that do it are referred to as monkey shoulders.
As Benedict is our Arctic mad fermentationist this special batch was of course not left to some boring distillers yeast. Benedict started collecting and archiving along with his friend Didrik Willadsen original Kveik cultures from Norwegian farms that are listed under Garsols Kveik registry.
Original and self propagated Kveik cultures and not simply one isolated strain made commercially available. Over the next few years we will brew each year’s harvest with a different farmhouse Kveik until we find the best one for us. For our first batch (2019 harvest) we decided to ferment with the Hornindal Farm culture as it contains 8 different yeast strains along with some bacteria which resulted in a severely tropical fruit rich new-make spirit, which is now resting in a refill solera sherry hogshead. All of our heritage series vintages will be maturing in refill casks as we don’t want to run the risk of masking any fine flavours with those derived from the casks previous containments.
The yield is terrible. A tonne of barley harvested in 2019 made 810kg of malt which resulted in 216 litres of new make @ 63.5% abv. That’s 4 times less than from commercially available malt. But one thing’s for sure. It’s at least 4 times as potent.
Harvesting 2021 – barley
The spring of 2021 was not as bad as last year and the farmers got the barley into the ground a little earlier than last year. Our partner in Alta, Benjamin Hykkerud, have tested out a variety of different barley types close to his main field. Some of thee barley types are old, farm types used in different northern regions (Iceland, northern Europe, Orkney), but none of them can withstand the extreme arctic conditions as good as Heder, which is the one we have harvested this fall. Due to different problems,one of the fields planted did not reach maturity and had to be discarded.
Processing 2021 – Arctic Heritage…
This autumn we initiated our new brew house and got to test it thoroughly on the Arctic barley from last year. As mentioned earlier, the yield is not as good as you would expect from traditional barley used for Whisky production, but the taste and smell from the new make is really interesting. Not comparable to anything else out there, some of our experts say.
We even bought a smale mill which seems to be working ok for us. It is only a 2 roll mill, but it seems to be doing an adequate job on the arctic barley.
The brewhouse has been in almost constant operation for 3 months. We have been doing mashing in the old scottish way, called “infusion mash”. It involves a 7 day fermentation to promote the malolactic fermentation reactions (Which adds to the fruity flavours).
This autumn we fermented with 100% “Hornindal” Kveik yeast. Hornindal is one of approximately 50 farms in Norway with their own Kveik – strand. The goal is to use kveik strand from different farms each year in this project…..we are building Arctic heritage with heritage Kveik yeast…..which is pretty cool!