The use of floor malting to transform barley into malt is at the heart of everything we’re doing at Dunphail. Our malthouse is the engine room which drives all of the production processes which follow after. It is our first opportunity to actively shape the character of our future Dunphail single malt whisky.
But the realities of operating a traditional, hand-turned malting floor are eye-opening – whilst it is both beautiful to witness and a highly effective process – it is also incredibly hard, labour-intensive work. No more so when steeping and malting Dunphail’s very first batch of barley over the course of this past week.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong
Murphy’s First Law
Nothing is as easy as it looks
Murphy’s Second Law
Everything will take longer than you think it will
Murphy’s Third Law
Our first week of floor malting has been emotional on a number of levels. The team have been thrilled to christen our malting floor with what will be the first of countless beds of glorious, fresh golden barley. But at the same time – true to Murphy’s infamous laws – there has been numerous challenges for us to conquer.
The first stage of the malting process is steeping. This is where the barley grains are soaked in a large tank to ensure that their moisture content is optimal. And this is also where our ordeals began!
Whilst the steep tank (buff) has been designed and installed to accommodate more than sufficient barley and water for a single malting run – how much barley and water actually needs to be added?
The answer, we discovered, was less than we initially calculated. The result of this overestimation was messy – the barley swelled in size and in doing so, raised the water level to the top of the buff (and beyond). Suffice it to say, we rescued these AWOL grains and in the process learned the operational capacity of our steeping process.
We installed a conveyor from the buff to the floor in order to aid the turning out of the grains ready for spreading. However, wet barley weighs considerably more than dry – and in the process of emptying the buff, we pushed our conveyor motor beyond its limits. Another lesson learned, but at the same time, an outcome which meant that the entire tank needed to be manually turned out. Cue the drawing of straws to see who would get this unenviable back-breaking task!
The spreading of the now moist grains over Dunphail’s malt floor *did* go according to plan – however, as is well known, this task is far from quick or easy. Ensuring a consistent height of grain bed is crucial to both the air circulation between the grains as they dry, as well as maintaining an optimal temperature throughout the germination process.
Here our challenges commenced once again as we discovered that our traditional hand rake simply did not possess enough weight to drive down through the grain bed to turn it over consistently. Additional mass needed to be employed!
Our final hardship was one which stemmed from our climate – the past week has been warm and humid and thus, we’ve needed to turn the floor (using our soon to be upgraded rake!) considerably more frequently than we’d expect at other times of the year. A very tired distillery team, but nevertheless – mission accomplished.
As you’ll see and read we have risen and adapted to all the challenges that were presented to us over the last week and are extremely proud to have successfully floor malted this first batch of barley.
Come back next week – we’ll be opening the doors to our kiln, firing it up and completing the preparation of the malt which will go on to be crafted into Dunphail’s first single malt whisky.