By Oregon State University
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Barley has always played second fiddle to hops and yeast when it comes to flavoring beer. Now the grain is ready for its solo.
In two studies published this week in the “Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists,” a research team led by Oregon State University found notable differences in the taste of beers malted from barley varieties reputed to have flavor qualities.
Consumers aren’t going to see a barley-flavored brew anytime soon in their local pub or grocery store, but the findings are an important first step toward a potential new market for beer connoisseurs, said OSU barley breeder Pat Hayes.
We started this project with a question: Are there novel flavors in barley that carry through malting and brewing and into beer? This is a revolutionary idea in the brewing world. We found that the answer is yes, Hayes said. These positive beer flavor attributes provide new opportunities for brewers and expand horizons for consumers.
In its malted form, barley is the principal source of fermentable sugars for most beers. But barley’s flavor contributions to beer are usually ascribed to the malting process rather than the grain itself.
Barley World, Hayes’ research group at OSU, with financial support from the beer industry, began with two barley varieties thought to have positive flavor attributes in beer: Golden Promise, developed and released in Great Britain, and OSU’s own barley variety, Full Pint. They then crossbred the two. That resulted in several hundred breeding lines of genetic seed stock. Researchers grew the offspring in test plots in Corvallis, Lebanon and Madras.
But there was a logistical challenge in preparing that barley for brewing and sensory testing. OSU’s progeny of Golden Promise and Full Pint each yielded only about 200 grams of malt — not enough for a reasonable sample to produce large quantities of beer for a standard sensory panel.
That’s when OSU teamed with Minnesota-based Rahr Malting Company and New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin. The companies had developed a brewing system that could produce a single bottle of beer from each unique malt. Dustin Herb, a graduate student in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, spent almost a year at Rahr participating in the micro-malting, nano-brewing and sensory processes.
Out of that initial partnership, about 150 beers were prepared for sensory testing. Each panelist tasted the beers once and then rated them on a scale in their amount of difference compared to an industry standard control beer.
The panelists found that beer brewed with Golden Promise scored significantly higher in fruity, floral and grassy flavors. Beer with Full Pint was significantly higher in malty, toffee and toasted flavors.
The progeny are showing all possible combinations of those traits. And, since researchers had been conducting DNA fingerprinting on these progeny, they can now assign certain regions of the barley genome as being responsible for these flavors. The study also found that there were some differences based on where the barley was grown, but the genetic effect was larger than the environment.
Based on the results of more Golden Promise-Full Pint progeny, finer structure genetic mapping of barley flavor genes is underway with Rahr. Researchers are also working with Deschutes Brewery in Bend to produce more representative beers from three of the selected progeny. OSU is producing 100 pounds of malt of each variety as well as a control sample called Copeland.
All three have unique flavor attributes and are relatively easy to grow. They have outstanding malt profiles. Deschutes is prepared to brew the same beer twice for each of those three and compare that to the control. Those beers are then destined to be sent to other brewers who will conduct their own sensory panels.
In addition to Herb, OSU Barley Project members Tanya Filichkin, Scott Fisk and Laura Helgerson contributed to the research. Collaborators included scientists in England, Canada, Scotland, Spain and the U.S.
The project received funding from the following breweries: Bell’s Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, New Glarus Brewing Company, Russian River Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Summit Brewing Company. The Brewers Association, an organization of small and independent craft brewers, also contributed financially. Mecca Grade Estate Malt and OreGro Seeds hosted the field trials.
Barley may be the most overlooked ingredient in beer, but it plays a critical background role that Oregon State University professor Pat Hayes likens to the bass solo in a song. Additionally, researchers are working on creating new varieties of barley and farm trials are underway. Pictured here is a combine harvesting Rogue’s barley fields last summer. Photo courtesy of Rogue Ales and Spirits
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Of the four ingredients in beer, barley is perhaps the most underrated. It doesn't have the flashiness of hops, with new varieties seemingly coming out every day. It doesn't have the environmental gravitas of water, the most abundant ingredient in beer by volume. It doesn't have the lingering mystique of yeast that harkens back to the time before yeast was a recognized beer ingredient. That leaves barley, the most predominantly used grain for malt, as the often-overlooked ingredient. But just like "no one puts Baby in the corner," barley is deserving of its own time in the spotlight.
While barley tends to get taken for granted, Oregon State University barley breeding and products professor Pat Hayes puts it in perspective saying that, "Without malt there wouldn't be the opportunity to showcase hops and yeast. It plays a critical background role but rarely gets to move to the front." He likens being able to pick the flavor of barley out in a beer to picking out the bass solo out in a song. The comparison is apt because base malts, which are lightly kilned and have low color, don’t provide much flavor. That isn't to say there is no contribution to beer's flavor from malt; in fact, there are a wide variety of specialty malts that do contribute more distinct characteristics. Craft brewers by far use more specialty malts than mainstream, adjunct brewers and have been the primary drivers in the growth and evolution of the specialty malt market.
Before malt is created, barley must be grown, most of which is called spring barley that is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. As an agricultural crop, barley provides some potential challenges for farmers. The revenue per acre for can be lower than what could be made growing other crops, setting up a situation in which it may be replaced with more lucrative crops. In addition, there is a secondary market for barley that doesn’t meet the specifications of malting companies. But that market — animal feed — is priced in favor of other crops, corn in particular, whose price is lamentably low due to national policies. Sadly, it may be cheaper for an Oregon farmer to buy Midwest-grown corn for feed than it is to purchase a neighboring farmer's barley.
Finally, barley grown for malting requires it to be a still-living thing, 99 percent viable, when it arrives to be processed into malt. That viability is influenced by handling during harvest and transport (an extra logistical consideration) as well as the moisture content at the time of harvest. Fall rains can be detrimental to the quality of the barley, a risk that’s minimized when malting companies contract with farmers in diverse geographical areas and supplement their spring barley crop with winter barley, which is typically harvested about a month earlier. Great Western Malting, a historical West Coast supplier to craft brewers, buys barley from northern California up through Washington and east to Idaho and Montana.
The variety of barley each farmer grows is based on the suitability of the climate it's grown in and provides only minor differences that are negated by malting. The process of turning barley into malt can be compared to turning bread into toast, one in which it is the process that is more influential on the finished product than what the starting product was. Great Western Malting produces 30 different types of malts to provide craft brewers with the variety and selection that they seek.
With that said, the starting product — the barley itself — is an area that continues to evolve as well. Researchers like Pat Hayes at Oregon State University are exploring the creation of new varieties of barley, which beyond having the ability of being malted into different types, may actually contribute their own unique flavors to beer. One such exploration is the crossing of Golden Promise, a barley strain that produces a malt craft brewers favor, with Full Pint, a variety that some hope will yield unique flavors. The hybrid creation, called Oregon Promise, is currently being grown in Madras. Oregon State University is in the process of conducting farm trials, moving beyond small plot production and working with industry partners who are starting to make the tiniest batches of beers with the grain.
Digressing slightly, standard batches of barley to be malted range from 30,000-350,000 pounds where as 5-by-20 test plots can be expected to yield only around 11 pounds. There’s no simple way to malt that small of an amount, currently. But that’s not stopping some from figuring out a way to do so, providing researchers with a way to determine whether they’ve gotten the results they were hoping for in the preliminary stages. One such venture is related to Pat Hayes' work in which Wisconsin's New Glarus Brewing Company has been able to develop a process utilizing less than a half a pound of malt to make a batch of beer that is equivalent to a single bottle. There’s a big gap between that highly specialized process and the smallest batch size of 30,000 pounds from Great Western Malting.
Just as craft brewers respond to the demand of consumers, so too is there at least one malting company working to fill the gap in malt batch sizes. A student from Pat Hayes' program is heading to Rahr Malting Company in Minnesota to work on a small scale malting/brewing/analyzing pipeline. The outcome of that work should expedite the exploration of barley’s contribution to beer flavor, starting with the Oregon Promise variety.
Developments like creating new barley strains, malting previously unheard of small batches and making a single-bottle batch of beer are exciting. And it’s things like this that may result in barley becoming the next frontier in craft beer.
For more information, visit the Oregon State University Barley Project site.
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: