Icelandic barley for the production of alcoholic beverages

Project title: Icelandic barley for the production of alcoholic beverages

Partners: University of Iceland, Eimverk Brewery

Research Fund: Agricultural Productivity Fund

Initial year: 2020

Service Category:

Vegetables & Grains


Ólafur Reykdal

Project Manager

The aim of the project was to find the best ways to utilize Icelandic barley in the production of alcoholic beverages, especially whiskey. The benefit is the results of the utilization of Icelandic barley in the production of fermented beverages, which should lead to increased use of Icelandic barley for human consumption. Partners were the University of Iceland for a master's project in food science and Eimverk Brewery. The project began in 2020 and ended in 2021. The sponsor was the Agricultural Productivity Fund. 

The results are reflected in the MS project carried out by Craig Clapcot, a summary of which is given below.

The aim of the project was to compare two methods for producing fermentable liquids from Icelandic barley for domestic whiskey production. The first method was based on the production of malt liquor from Icelandic barley, the second was based on processing Icelandic barley only with added enzymes. Imported barley malt was also examined for comparison. Measurements were made of sugars at the beginning and end of fermentation as well as alcohol at the end of fermentation. Samples were specially prepared for sensory evaluation and to assess the possibility of producing alcoholic beverages. 

In Iceland, there are opportunities to define Icelandic methods for the production of alcoholic beverages, and these methods do not necessarily have to follow traditional methods in Scotland and Ireland. Within the beverage industry in Iceland, an examination has begun of how the name "Icelandic whiskey" can be protected both in Iceland and in Europe (Bændablaðið, November 2020, Eimverk applies for protection for "Icelandic whiskey"). Part of this process is to define what Icelandic whiskey is and how it is produced, just as the Scots had to do in the early 19th century for their own production. They did this by asking the question: What is whiskey?

It is necessary to define Icelandic whiskey so that domestic barley can be used for more than just feed and it will be possible to ascertain whether it will be possible to increase the value of barley. It is hoped that this work will make it easier for new parties to utilize Icelandic barley for the production of whiskey and other alcoholic beverages.

The results of the MS project are that both production methods are promising for the production of alcoholic beverages in Iceland. However, not as much sugar was obtained from malted Icelandic barley as imported malt or Icelandic barley that had been treated with added enzymes at high temperatures. It may be that the type of distillation equipment has a greater effect on the taste of the whiskey than whether the barley has been malted or processed with enzymes. It may not be possible to malt Icelandic barley every year as the development of the barley depends on the weather. The industry therefore needs other measures than malting in such years to ensure the production of alcoholic beverages. The project will hopefully provide knowledge and ideas for the rapidly evolving beverage industry in Iceland.

English version: Whiskey from Icelandic barley. MS project of Craigs Clapcot - Summary

The aim of this study was to investigate two methods of producing fermentable wort for Icelandic whiskey production, both from indigenous barley. The first of these methods was to small batch malt some Icelandic barley, the second was to mash Icelandic barley solely with exogenous enzymes. These methods, along with a sample prepared from commercially malted, foreign barley were analyzed for wort sugar composition, total sugars, final sugars and alcohol produced after fermentation. Small samples were also distilled for basic sensory analyzes and their suitability to spirits production assessed.

Iceland has an opportunity to discover its own way of producing spirits and it does not necessarily have to follow the “traditional” methods of Scotland or Ireland. The industry has started looking at how to protect “Íslenskt viskí” or Icelandic whiskey both in Iceland and Europe (Bændablaðið, november 2020, Part of this process will be defining what it is and how it is to be produced, just like the Scottish had to do themselves at the beginning of the 19th century as regards their own industry by asking the question “what is whiskey?”.

It is this author's belief that this work is needed so more Icelandic barley can be utilized for purposes other than animal feed, and to ascertain whether farmers can put their barley to more profitable use. It is hoped that work of this kind will potentially remove barriers hindering interested parties entering the Icelandic whiskey and spirits industry.

This author found that these two methods are good candidates for potable spirits production in Iceland. The conclusion of this work is that although malting Icelandic barley is possible and has been done, it did not produce sugar levels as high as foreign malt or Icelandic barley processed at high temperatures with exogenous enzymes and the grain bill malted or unmalted may be less important than the distillation apparatus used to create them. It could be the case that malting of Icelandic barley is not possible every year and we may need, as an industry other methods or options to ensure that we can create spirits and product when this happens. This work will hopefully contribute knowledge and ideas towards the fledgling Icelandic spirits industry.