Scientists Attempt to Awaken Centuries-Old Whisky Flavours

Published 07 February 2023

2 min read

Spirits brands worldwide are experimenting with new ways to boost the eco credentials and flavour profiles of their whiskies. Researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University may soon provide a solution, as they begin a six-year project to bring extinct barley species back into production.

Seeking to discover if old barley varieties could produce unique new whiskies, the team will test at least eight heritage barley species, to investigate how they respond to modern processing techniques.

Varieties to be tested include the 200-year-old Chevalier, considered UK’s most popular barley for 100 years, from the 1820s to the 1920s; Moravia-grown Haná, which appeared in the first blonde pilsner lager in 1842; and Golden Promise, used in Scottish whisky brand The Macallan’s bottlings during the 1960s (BBC, 2023).

“There’s hope that using these heritage varieties of barley might allow for recovery of favourable aroma characteristics into distillate and some have also displayed potential resilience to stresses that might be expected in a changing climate,” says Calum Holmes, assistant professor of brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt.

The researchers hope the results will produce new single malts for Edinburgh’s Holyrood Distillery, which, according to head of spirit operations Marc Watson, is particularly interested in the potential sensory differences and distinctive mouthfeel created by the revived barley varieties.

Seeking to discover if old barley varieties could produce unique new whiskies, the team will test at least eight heritage barley species, to investigate how they respond to modern processing techniques.

Varieties to be tested include the 200-year-old Chevalier, considered UK’s most popular barley for 100 years, from the 1820s to the 1920s; Moravia-grown Haná, which appeared in the first blonde pilsner lager in 1842; and Golden Promise, used in Scottish whisky brand The Macallan’s bottlings during the 1960s (BBC, 2023).

“There’s hope that using these heritage varieties of barley might allow for recovery of favourable aroma characteristics into distillate and some have also displayed potential resilience to stresses that might be expected in a changing climate,” says Calum Holmes, assistant professor of brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt.

The researchers hope the results will produce new single malts for Edinburgh’s Holyrood Distillery, which, according to head of spirit operations Marc Watson, is particularly interested in the potential sensory differences and distinctive mouthfeel created by the revived barley varieties.

Want to know more?

This article is an example of Stylus' expert research into how trends are evolving. Get in touch so someone from the Stylus team can explain how your business can harness the power of trends and insights like these – and more.

Want to know more?

This article is an example of Stylus' expert research into how trends are evolving. Get in touch so someone from the Stylus team can explain how your business can harness the power of trends and insights like these – and more.