In recent times, a few distilleries have been making whisky with organic barley. Benromach have an expression from 2010 which they bottled this year. Laphroaig bottled one for the Highgrove estate and Bruichladdie have an organic whisky from 2009. There is even a distillery which has only just opened which is 100% organic, the Ncn’ean distillery. But there is a distillery which has been thinking about and producing organic whisky for longer than all of these. Deanston has a 15 year old organic whisky, which means they started making organic whisky as long ago as 2003 when whisky was only just starting to grow in popularity in the way it is today.
To make organic whisky, the barley or course must be organic which is more expensive. The casks also must be organic, the casks have to be scrapped and charred deep enough so that the spirit doesn’t come into contact with an non organic material, and the easiest way to make sure of this is to use virgin oak casks, so Deanston finish the organic spirit in virgin oak casks so give the spirit extra sweetness. Virgin oak casks are made from American oak which have not previously held any other liquid before the new make spirit is placed in them. Lastly, and by far the most difficult part of the process is the cleansing of the distillery itself. To be certified as an organic whisky, the spirit can not be created in the stills if a non organic run of spirit has been passed through them. The easiest way to manage this is to make organic spirit directly after the distillery has been cleaned during its maintenance period. Usually over the Christmas period. But they make organic whisky at other times of year which impacts on the main production. Asking Dr Kirsty McCallum, Deanston’s master blender why they make organic whisky, she tells me there are two reasons. The distillery was founded in 1967 by entrepreneurs and creating organic whisky continues this entrepreneurial spirit going, but mainly it is because it tastes good. It has a slightly different character than their other whiskies, being more floral and delicate.
Ideally, Deanston would like to have their organic barely grown in the local area giving the whisky an even stronger sense of place. One thing is for certain though, if they manage to create such a whisky, it is going to be delicious.
By Colin Hampden-White