In 2014, Brewers Association identified several mismatches and/or disconnects between craft brewer present and future needs and the U.S. grown barley malt supply and markets in the document Malting Barley Characteristics for Craft Brewers. Some of the gaps have to do with barley itself while others have to do with market structure, scale and practice. The high number of brewing companies and number of craft brands means that continued innovation in all-malt brands will need to be fueled by an increasingly diverse barley malt supply.
Craft beer drinkers increasingly seek out beer brands that are brewed locally. The craft malting and brewing industries across the US have an increased desire to use locally produced grains for making their products. The current U.S. barley supply is predominantly produced along the upper tier: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Minnesota in the US; and Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada. Each of these areas has large barley-breeding programs which are developing varieties adapted to their specific growing regions, which are quite different from those in the eastern US.
To satisfy the growing need for locally grown barley and to increase the diversity of sources of barley and malt for member breweries, the BA is funding the Eastern Spring Barley Nursery (ESBN) in 2016.
Led by Dr. Richard Horsley of North Dakota State University (NDSU) this research is a collaborative effort supported by Cornell University, Michigan State University, North Dakota State University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University, University of Maine, and the University of Vermont.
Twenty-five varieties of barley have been selected by soliciting suggestions from craft maltsters and brewers in the growing areas of the participating institutions. NDSU will distribute seed to each cooperating university. Using standard production practices for small grain field plots, data will be collected on days to heading, plant height, foliar diseases, lodging, and yield. Following harvest, a sample of each entry from each location will be sent to NDSU where kernel plumpness, grain protein, test weight, pre-harvest sprouting and DON accumulation will be measured.
A report will be produced that will include information on agronomic performance, disease resistance, barley quality and malt quality of each variety. The report will then be shared with local ag extension personnel, growers, maltsters and other stakeholders so they can make informed decisions on what malting barley varieties to grow in their region.