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Whiskey galore but sobering prices for barley growers


Jack Teeling at the Teeling Distillery in Newmarket, Dublin 8

Jack Teeling at the Teeling Distillery in Newmarket, Dublin 8

Jack Teeling at the Teeling Distillery in Newmarket, Dublin 8

The surge in whiskey sales may not be having an impact on grain prices but it is delivering increased demand for malting barley.

Irish whiskey exports are worth €300m a year but Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) grain committee chairman, Liam Dunne, says not all Irish whiskey under production is being made with Irish grain.

"We would like to see that Irish produced whiskey has the maximum amount of native grains in it instead of importing other grains such as maize.

"The guys (distillers) themselves have to make up their own minds about what they want to put into it. That's what decides what the whiskey is going to be like afterwards and we're not in a position to interfere in telling them what should be in their mash.

"We would like to think that if they want to put Irish on the bottle, and it is a growing brand, they should have it as Irish as possible," he said.

Mr Dunne added that Ireland is capable of growing plenty more barley to match the excelling industry.

"Our capacity to grow malting barley is not limited - we can grow a lot more of it," said Mr Dunne.

So we're nowhere near reaching our capacity to produce it. Of course, the distilling industry here it doesn't use only malting barley - it's using other grains as well."

However, while farmers are experiencing a greater demand from distillers, they are not receiving higher prices for their crop.

Malting barley prices are currently around €160 to €174 per tonne.

"We'd all love it if the base price was much higher. This is the third year running now that the base prices have been very low and it's causing a severe strain on all grain growers," said Mr Dunne.

"I suppose if they have malting barley they have a little bit more of an edge, but of course there's a risk in growing malting barley in getting all those specifications right.

Fergal Barry, finance manager at malting company Boortmalt, says that while the distilling industry is continuing to grow demand hasn't exceeded the Irish capacity to produce malting barley.

"We'd have a certain amount of our production that we export - if we need to pull back on what we export then we pull back.

"We have an internal market within our group so we help each other out.

"The home market demand at the minute wouldn't be up to our capacity, which is why we'd have a certain amount to export to our sister companies," Mr Barry said.

Jack Teeling of the Teeling Whiskey Company says that the company supports Irish growers where possible.

"When you say grain in a whiskey term it tends to be from maize or corn, and obviously that can't be grown in Ireland to any sort of level to produce a standard of spirits that would be drinkable or commercially viable.

"It's been been a tradition in Scotland and Ireland for generations now to source from high quality producers of that and that tends to be of the south of France.

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"For malted whiskey, which comes from malted barley, we source locally because it's one thing that we can grow and that's barley here in Ireland and that forms the base of the flavour."

'Golden era'

Mr Teeling added that while the industry is booming, distillers must be cautious not to lose customers to Scotch or American whiskies.

"We are in the middle of a golden era for Irish whiskeys, as an industry we cannot be arrogant to think what has gotten us here is enough to keep us on the same trajectory," he said.

There are 16 active distilleries in Ireland with a further 13 in development. Thirteen million cases of Irish whiskey were sold in 2014, with growth expected.

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