Farming for Craft: New Barley & Malt Varieties Respond to Brewer Demand

Dan Carey, brewmaster and cofounder of Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing, doesn’t like recipes that simply call for “pale malt” without specificity. Nor does he like it when people describe base malt as “a blank canvas.”

American craft beer came of age when the barley varieties available were bred for the big brewers. They emphasized mash efficiency and enzymatic power for adjunct brewing; flavor was not a consideration. Because that was the only readily available malt, it was the malt that most brewers—even craft brewers—used. Carey, however, has always gravitated toward beers of deeper malt character, such as those of Northern Bavaria.

“Barley malt is an important ingredient in beer,” Carey says, “and we are always wanting to get maximum flavor from all of our ingredients.” As a result, he and New Glarus have always experimented with new and interesting barley varieties to ensure that their base malt is not a blank canvas—it must contribute flavor.

“Now, [barley] breeders are excited about craft beer,” Carey says, “but it takes [more than] 10 years for new barley varieties to come to market, so we’re at a crossroads.” Breeders—who are working with farmers, who are working with craft maltsters, who are working with the new wave of craft brewers—are laying the foundation for change.

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