"IT’S all that’s grown on the islands - it’s all that does grow here.” Jonny Ingledew, who runs the North Uist distillery, is talking about bere barley (pronounced bear).

An ancient grain which has been grown in Scotland for more than 1000 years, bere was once used in all Scotch whiskies. However, by the end of the 20th century, it was nearly extinct.

Outcompeted by more modern varieties offering a higher yield, bere was reduced to a handful of hectares, used by crofters on Scottish islands to feed their livestock.

But looking to revitalise the economy of Uist, Ingledew and his partner Kate Macdonald turned to the crop.

They hope to create a unique spirit and put Uist “on the whisky map”. Using the historic bere barley, Ingledew says there will be no “forfeit of taste” as there are in the higher-yield varieties.

It will also mean that local crofters can earn cash from their crop. The barley will be sent to the distillery for mashing, with all the waste sent back to the farms to feed the animals.

“It’s a nice circular process,” Ingledew explains.

He says that by using bere they can “really champion the use of this historic grain that every whisky in the world used to be made from, and in doing that safeguard this grain that has fallen to the edges of use and risks falling down and out altogether”.

The project would have the effect of safeguarding the heritage of Uist while also putting money in the pockets of its crofters. Bere is, after all, a “landrace”, meaning it has gradually evolved and adapted to the specific local growing conditions.

But it will be a few years before the new-make spirit starts flowing, with even longer needed to age the Scotch. “It takes time, you have to be patient,” Ingledew says: “But in the whisky industry, time is valuable.”

For now, North Uist Distillery Co is focusing on gin, and its other goals of becoming carbon neutral, carbon negative, and a certified B corporation.

Sales of its Downpour gin have allowed the business to grow to where it is today, employing eight people across Uist.

The distillery was founded with the aim of strengthening the islands’ economy, Ingledew says. By hiring and training locals up, it gives people the opportunity to stay, rather than move elsewhere looking for employment.

With those goals in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the North Uist Distillery was awarded cash from a Scottish Government fund aiming to boost “climate resilient living on our islands”.

The firm, which has a business centre on Benbecula as well as the distillery on North Uist, will use a grant of almost £50,000 to purchase an electric van for deliveries across the archipelago, and to install an air source heat pump.

The changes will help in becoming carbon neutral by 2030. However, having been plastic-free since it was founded, and with a newly designed bottle which cuts down on glass by 40%, Ingledew is quietly confident that target will be hit by 2025.