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Malt Barley - A Local Value Chain

By Mitchell Japp, Provincial Specialist, Cereal Crops

April 2020

A good craft beer starts with a good
malt barley variety

It all starts with a good barley variety. Dr. Aaron Beattie is the ministry-funded Strategic Research Program Chair in Barley and Oat Breeding and Genetics. He's focused on delivering improved two-row malting barley varieties, with improved disease resistance and advanced agronomic characteristics. This includes breeds that are early-maturing, shorter and have improved lodging resistance, on top of being suitable for malting and brewing.

Once seed from a suitable variety is available, it is up to the farmer to deliver a suitable product. The malt industry has specific requirements. Maltsters are looking for barley with at least 85 per cent germination, a narrow range of protein levels, and plump and uniform kernels. Farmers who plant malt barley can apply modern agronomic practices to increase the likelihood of producing barley suited for malting.

After harvest, barley determined suitable is malted to modify the starches into sugars that are more readily used in the brewing process. Although malting follows a very specific process for brewing, the final step of kilning allows the maltster to add flavour and colour.

"It's where we can be creative," said Matt Enns, founder of Maker’s Malt. "We try to create lots of flavour and lots of interesting product." Base malt is used in almost all beer, but specialty malts can add specific flavours to beer. Specialty malts range from relatively light to dark, with the darkest giving a chocolate or coffee flavour.

Makers Crafted Malts
Makers Crafted Malts use Saskatchewan-grown barley
to produce craft beer varieties

While large malt-houses are critically important in supplying the industry, the boom of craft beer has created demand for specialty malts. Craft breweries are growing in Saskatchewan. They aim for high-quality products, resulting in a positive impact on the local economy, including agriculture.

According to Shawn Moen, CEO and general manager of 9 Mile Legacy, craft signals a "return to the old European brewing processes, involving all malt barley, great local ingredients, creative hop profiles and different types of fermentations."

Other ingredients may be included to add specific flavouring, but the basic ingredients remain the same. Because craft is all-malt brewing, they use three to four times the amount of barley as adjunct brewing. In addition to specialty malt houses, the craft industry has also led to the development of a local hop industry.

The malt barley value chain is an important part of Saskatchewan’s agriculture sector. At the most basic level, the goal is to add value by creating a product enjoyed by many. With both large-scale and micro-scale (and smaller) production options for malt, and with nearly countless styles of beer for breweries to make, the potential products that can be made from a simple grain result in a complex, local value chain.

This article was originally published in Agriview.

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