Whisky giant North British Distillery could soon be using Scottish wheat as its raw material rather than French maize.
The move would create a new market for as much as 170,000 tonnes of wheat. North British Distillery, based at Gorgie, Edinburgh, has production sites and warehousing in West Lothian and is a joint venture between major whisky producers Diageo and Edrington Group.
It produces grain spirit mostly for use in whisky production. Diageo’s brands include Johnny Walker and Smirnoff while Edrington produces Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark.
The use of French maize, all of which is non-genetically modified, has long rankled with Fife farmer Gordon Rennie who founded the Not In The Spirit campaign to encourage Scotch whisky producers to use only Scottish ingredients.
He said: “It has always seemed outrageous that our national drink, labelled as produced in Scotland, contains imported ingredients.” Responding to rumours about a switch to wheat, a North British Distillery spokesman said the company could use either wheat or maize and wheat trials had already started.
Gordon Rennie said: “I am sure this is going to happen and it will be a great market for growers from Perthshire to the Scottish Borders. I would suggest farmers in the area should be making sure they order the best quality distilling varieties for sowing this autumn so they can meet the demand.”
The North British Distillery spokesman added: “We will assess the [trial] results and factor these into our future plans.
“Our business resilience requires flexibility to ensure we can adapt to factors such as unpredictable harvests and market conditions.”
The change from maize to wheat is complicated and needs significant changes to the processing system. Domestic wheat is now competitive with maize thanks to the weakening pound but the spirit yield is not as high.
Maize will typically have a spirit yield of 480 litres/tonne compared with 440 litres/t from wheat. North British Distillery uses about 3,000t per week of imported maize with about 3,270t of wheat needed to produce the same amount of spirit.