A major investment in Teagasc Oak Park has the potential to change the Irish drinks sector, examining ways to add value to Irish grain and also helping to train the next generation of distillers.

Head of the Crops Environment and Land Use Programme at Teagasc, John Spink, said: “The particular focus has been trying to add value to Irish grains, rather than just trying to produce grain for feed. Can we add value by putting it into the drinks industry?”

Spink explained that the Distilling and Brewing: Building Capacity project, which is a collaboration between Teagasc, South East Technological University and Technological University Dublin, aims to characterise grains and examine their suitability for the distilling sector, in particular, although the plant also works on brewing.

The examination of wheat for distilling is a key part of the project, as it looks like it has potential for distilling and is being used by some distillers already.

John explained that the project is taking place in the field and the lab. In the fields, different varieties and agronomic practices are examined for their effects on yield, quality, protein, starch content and much more.

He said: “By choosing the right variety or by choosing the wrong variety, you can have quite a significant impact on the alcohol yield you will get from wheat to be distilled from under 400L of alcohol per tonne to over 500L per tonne.”

He added that the project will also look at optimising the processes of brewing and distilling.

The National Centre for Brewing and Distilling

Lisa Ryan has been charged with heading up the National Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Teagasc’s Crops Research Centre in Oak Park. Lisa has a host of experience in the distilling sector.

“It is a very exciting project. Ultimately what we want to do is validate the added value potential for Irish grains,” she said.She added that the centre will also support education and training from an agronomic and production point of view.

The equipment on site allows a lot of testing to be done on very small batches of grain to bigger-scale batches. The micromaltings plant allows the team to malt grain in 100g to 8kg batches.

The pilot-scale malting plant then allows a batch of grain, 250kg in size, to be malted. Ryan explained that there is a lot of interest in speciality malts, which can be put through 250kg at a time.

The second phase of the project will see students from South East Technological University in Carlow, who are training to be brewers and distillers, come to the centre as part of their degree course.

She noted that the centre will test all types of grain, from barley to rye, and will allow a farmer to test their grain, if they want to produce whiskey from their farm, for example.