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Record breaker caps £12 million investment at Buckie Maltings


By Alan Beresford

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THE world's largest malting kiln has been unveiled to great fanfare at Buckie Maltings.

Yvan Schaepman and Douglas Ross plant a commemorative tree. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Yvan Schaepman and Douglas Ross plant a commemorative tree. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

It completes a massive £12 million expansion programme at the March Road East plant by owners Boortmalt, an major international malting company.

The business, which is one of the oldest malting businesses in the UK, has built the kiln and expanded its supporting buildings by 1800m2 to support the growing demand for malt in whisky distilling and brewing across the globe – with sales of whisky expected to hit $108bn by 2031.

The new, modern kiln measures 41 metres in diameter and has a capacity to hold 600 tonnes of malt per batch. It also boasts economical burner technology, designed to increase energy efficiency.

Boortmalt’s expansion, which has been completed within 12 months of breaking ground, will see malt production capacity increase by 50 per cent to approximately 90,000 Mt per year. It will also allow Boortmalt to purchase more barley locally in the north of Scotland, supporting local farmers in those areas.

The investment will also positively impact Boortmalt’s sustainability credentials. The increased capacity will reduce the distance malt and barley will be transported each year and will improve the local supply chain efficiency, thereby helping to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Yvan Schaepman and Douglas Ross plant a commemorative tree. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Yvan Schaepman and Douglas Ross plant a commemorative tree. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

On hand to unveil the kiln and expansion project, along with Moray MP Douglas Ross, was Boortmalt Group CEO Yvan Schaepman.

He said: “We are extremely confident in the future of the malting sector, and the expansion will allow us to keep up with the high performance of our customer base.

"In less than 12 months, our people in Buckie have built the largest kiln in the world. Well done!”

Charles Tozer, General Manager UK and Ireland at Boortmalt, said that the new kiln and expansion project was a direct result of customer demand.

He said: "The last five years has really seen an increase in demand from distillers who're laying down stock for the next 10 years, so we need to be able to keep up with this.

"There has been a significant increase in demand for malt whisky, we have to anticipate these changes in demand and as a result have decided to expand our operation here in Buckie. One of the reasons we went for Buckie is we had already expanded our steeping process here in 2007 but the kilns has been a bottleneck as demand has gone up. The new kiln debottlenecks the process.

"The plant's proximity to Speyside was also a factor as was the space we have here at the site."

The commorative plaque marking the unveiling of the £12 million expansion at the Buckie Boortmalt plant. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
The commorative plaque marking the unveiling of the £12 million expansion at the Buckie Boortmalt plant. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

Mr Tozer noted that increasing affluence in the likes of China, India, Taiwan and across Asia, as well as in the USA, was stoking demand for malt whisky.

He added: “We pride ourselves on working alongside each distiller and brewer to offer them the malt that will work best for the style of beer or whisky that they produce. We are excited for what the future holds after significantly expanding our production capacity.”

Mr Ross praised the level of commitment Boortmalt had shown at the Buckie plant.

He said: “I was delighted to be part of the official opening of the kiln at Boortmalt in Buckie.

“This is an impressive structure that not only increases productivity, but is also more energy efficient which is crucial as we continue to tackle the climate emergency.

“Boortmalt have invested heavily here in Moray and that is something I warmly welcome as the local member of parliament.

“Seeing inside the kiln showed me just how impressive the building is and it was good to see so many of the growers from across Moray and Banffshire at the opening and touring the kiln, seeing where their grain goes at this initial stage in Scotch whisky production.”

The kiln at Buckie Boortmalt plant is the largest in the world, according to the firm. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
The kiln at Buckie Boortmalt plant is the largest in the world, according to the firm. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

Buckie Maltings typically receives around 50,000 tonnes of barley at harvest time, although this is not enough to satisfy annual requirements at the plant. Barley passes through the kiln at a rate of 600 tonnes a every two days – previously every three days prior to the installation of the new kiln.

Production manager Allen Findlay explained how the new kiln fitted into the overall process of converting barley into malt for the distilling industry.

"When barley arrives it goes through quite a few tests before it's accepted," he continued.

"It's then put in a wet bin and then passed tower dryers.

"We're drying it down typically from 18 per cent to 12-13 per cent moisture.

"The next stage is to send it to the steep where we wet the barley until its up to around 44 per cent moisture. this is done is two stages and if we get this right it makes the rest of the process a lot easier.

"From the steep the barley is taken to the germination vessel where it spends four days where we open up and expose the starch granules. After four days it's ready to go to the kiln where it stays for 27 hours reducing it to four to four and a half per cent moisture.

"Once that's done it's transferred to the silo. This is quite a delicate process as at four per cent moisture the barley is quite friable."

The grain is placed into the kiln in three layers totalling one metre in depth. A total of 50,000 glass tubes running from the kiln to the outside of the building act as condensers.

Mr Tozer added that the energy efficiencies afforded by the technology utilised in the kiln were part of a wider sustainability drive, including making the facility ready to use other power sources, including hydrogen.

News of the expansion was also welcomed by local councillors Sonya Warren and Neil McLennan as well as Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Karen Adam.

Councillor Warren said: "It's a fabulous investment in the area. Its an added boost that some of the product (used) is transported by boat using our harbour.

"Well done to the team at Boortmalt who have managed this huge extension over Covid restrictions and Brexit, which have been challenging situations to work in yet alone build this fantastic extension to their plant."

Councillor McLennan said the investment was one more thing to "be optimistic about" the town;s future.

“Buckie truly is positioning itself as a regional, national and international centre. Between innovations in wind farming and now this news, there is lots to be optimistic about for Buckie.

"This world record right on Buckie’s doorstep continues Moray’s tradition of ensuring the world enjoys our great whisky and our aim to bring innovation from tradition.”

Ms Adam commented: "I am delighted to welcome the world’s largest kiln to Buckie and the north-east of Scotland.

“This £12 million expansion is testament to Scotland’s ever-growing malting sector, showcasing potential for a bright economic future, particularly in terms of Scotland’s international trading potential.

“Making steps toward net zero is also a really positive leap forward, this expansion will help improve the efficiency of energy use and the local supply chain.”

Boortmalt operates in the UK as Pauls Malt, based in Bury St Edmunds, East Anglia and dates back to the 19th century. It has run its malting facility in Buckie since 1974 where it sources barley and sells its product locally, with the majority of its malt being delivered into Speyside. Buckie Maltings currently employs 24.


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