The process consists of immersing or "steeping" the dry barley seeds in water over two or three days to absorb moisture and start to sprout. The barley is then transferred to the malting floor, where it is constantly turned for four to six days. During this time a naturally occurring enzyme converts starch to sugar mimicking the process that would naturally happen in the field to provide the fuel for the barley seeds to grow. The barley is then dried, in our case using only warm air. Other distillers add some smoke to their barley by burning peat at this stage. That is their prerogative. At Glengoyne we add flavour in different ways, such as by distilling more slowly than any other distiller and using the finest sherry casks for maturation. There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with peat burning, it just is not the Glengoyne way. We do not fully understand it, but we imagine that the process of adding peat smoke to your barley must be akin to that famous scene from The Wicker Man, but with less screaming.
The malting stage is crucial in determining production costs as the sugar levels created here dictate the yield of alcohol that we will extract from each tonne of barley further down the line. Yields vary from year to year, depending on climactic conditions. In a good year we'd expect to extract 420 litres of pure alcohol per tonne of malted barley. In a bad year that could fall to below 400. Somewhat surprisingly, we do not experience flavour fluctuations on a year to year basis in the way that winemakers do. Poor weather equals poor yields, NOT poor flavour.
The reality is barley is crucial in determining yield, but is more of a flavour carrier than a flavour in itself. In other words, malted barley does not deliver much in itself, but picks up flavours created during fermentation, distillation and maturation. At Glengoyne, we are very comfortable with this, as we realise that our devotion to not cutting corners at any stage of the process will result in world class spirit in 10, 12, 17 or 21 years time.