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Happy International Women’s Day! Here at Crisp, we always strive to support and celebrate women in our industry by sponsoring the WiB Mentorship Programme, employing incredible, skilled, and talented women, and supporting the likes of Dr Rutele Marciulionyte in her research of speciality malts in distilling. And that’s exactly what we’re doing this International Women’s Day – celebrating one of the most remarkable women in our industry – Rutele. We interviewed Rutele to find out more about her role in the industry, her key findings, and more.

What did you study and research in your PhD?

I recently earned a doctoral degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Unlike Bachelor’s or Master’s, the PhD program does not include any taught lessons or exams. It is four years of advanced research, contributing new knowledge to the field, ultimately leading to the completion of the doctoral dissertation or thesis.

My area of study was speciality malt used in Scotch malt whisky distilling – I studied how roasted aromas such as hazelnut, chocolate or cappuccino can be introduced to whisky by adding speciality malts to the mash bill, how that affects whisky fermentation and alcohol yield, and how roasted flavours in whisky change during maturation.


What did the project involve? What is your connection with Holyrood and Crisp Malt?

The project was a joint venture between the university, as well as Crisp Malt and Holyrood Distillery, who co-funded this research. I worked together with very talented people from Crisp Malt and Holyrood Distillery to design experiments, interpret the results, and compare them to the industry practices. Crisp Malt kindly supplied me with bags of distiller’s malt, and most of my days were spent in the lab, where I roasted malt at different temperatures and durations in a little drum roaster, 400 grams at the time. Then, I conducted numerous mashes, likely totalling in the thousands and several hundred small-scale distillations, each time adjusting various parameters in the process to observe their impact on the resulting spirit. Despite the spirit quantity being really small, ranging from just 10 to 100 mL per batch, it was sufficient for conducting analysis and constructing a chemical fingerprint for distillate obtained from each recipe.

Later on, we moved to industry-scale at the Holyrood Distillery. We’ve created six whisky recipes with added speciality malts and performed eighteen distillations, resulting in about 600 L of spirit each time. For two weeks, I basically lived at the distillery, taking samples of everything: from malt, wort, wash, and low wines to heads, hearts, tails and the final new make spirit. Subsequently, the spirit was filled into casks, and I had the pleasure of visiting them every month, taking a sample from each one for chemical analysis.

Overall, it was a fascinating project for me – the results were really valuable, plus, my lab always smelled amazing with those cosy aromas of roasted malt and chocolate floating around! Also, being part of this industry is fantastic, with plenty of inspiring events and a community of incredibly friendly and curious people.

Dr Rutele Marciulionyte at Holyrood moving Crisp Malt sacks

What did you discover? Were there any breakthroughs with your research?

We’ve made many discoveries during the past four years. Some were quite obvious, although they have never been published before, but others were truly a surprise.

For example, I found that most of the pleasant ‘roasted’ flavours in malt are formed at about 180°C. It’s not a coincidence that most recipes for baking cakes, roasting chicken, or toasting bread call for similar temperatures—they are ideal conditions for Maillard and caramelisation reactions. Another finding is that during distillation, roasted flavours tend to run together with feints, so if we want to squeeze out more of the espresso aroma from Chocolate Malt into whisky, we can easily do so by adjusting the spirit cut points.

A breakthrough moment was when we noticed that spirit made from heavily roasted malts tasted smoky and ashy. It turns out that at high temperatures, lignin in malt pyrolyses into phenols, the same smoky molecules that we get when burning peat. That opened up a possibility to substitute peat for heavily roasted malts to make smoky whisky in a more sustainable way.

Malted grains used for whisky and nrewing beer on a table top

What were your favourite malts to work with and why?

At the beginning of the project, I thought that the darker the malt, the better the flavour. But I quickly realised that this is not the case and that each speciality malt has its time and place. My favourite for making whisky has to be Brown Malt from Crisp Malt. It’s easy to handle, does not drag down the yield much, and the spirit smells delicious, like milk chocolate, walnuts, and caffè latte.

Brown malt grains used for brewing and distilling

What’s your favourite whisky?

I think there are different whiskies for different occasions, and I cannot pick just one. I like old single grain whisky, I like sherry bombs, I like kippery peat-freak tales. I really enjoy discovering new whiskies or releases, comparing them and trying to understand from the chemist’s perspective where the aromas come from.

If you’d like to try a whisky made with specialty malts, I could not recommend Glenmorangie Signet more – it tastes like freshly roasted coffee beans and chocolate raisins. But even better, if you have a chance to visit the Holyrood Distillery, come over for a tour and a tasting, they have a fantastic assortment of spirits made from different heritage and specialty malts.

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