What does Winter Barley have in common with male craft brewers? Both sprout beards, and you need both to make beer (female craft brewers being exempt from sprouting beards of course). And yet, with all of this in common, the two know little about one another.

As winter is settling in and Winter Malting Barley is going dormant in the ground, Craft Maltsters and Brewers can learn more about a crop that could become their new BFF (Barley Friend Forever). Over the next 6 weeks, our Guild’s Research and Variety Committee will explore Winter Malting Barley. We will enlighten ourselves to the history of this crop, its current status both in Europe and the US, and the research being done by barley breeders from across the country with support from the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA).


According to the research paper, Barley Malt Beer, published in 2009 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

“The advantage of winter barley is that it can benefit from fall soil moisture, which ensures higher yields as compared with spring barley. New varieties of winter malting barley could provide brewers with better quality, namely higher fine extract content, better malt modification, and lower malt protein content.”

This is great news for everyone along the beer supply chain.

Growing: Farmers are able to seed their barley crop in the fall, possibly no-tilling that seed into a previous crops’ residue. That seed is then able to take advantage of higher soil moisture, germinate quickly, and start growing roots and tillers. Heading into the winter, the plant becomes dormant. Even in dormancy, winter barley is helping the soil and the farmer because its extensive root system will help to prevent soil erosion. Ideally, an insulating layer of snow will help the plant to survive the cold weather. As spring arrives the plant breaks dormancy and is ready to grow to maturity. The runoff from winter precipitation will help this plant grow and will not require as much irrigation as spring sown varieties. This “leg up” that winter barley gets over a spring sown barley can be seen in the images above. With a thick, established canopy of leaves, the winter barley is able to outcompete weeds better than spring sown. Less weeds=more nutrients available for barley plant=healthier plants=greater yield, and less need for herbicides being sprayed on the field. By the end of June and into July the grain is ready to be harvested before the heat or, in some regions, humidity of the summer take hold.

Lush WInter Malting Barley by Kevin Smith, UMN
Lush WInter Malting Barley
by Kevin Smith, UMN
Bare Spring Barley By Kevin Smith, UMN
Bare Spring Barley
By Kevin Smith, UMN

Malting: Craft Maltsters are looking to source local grain. Any time we can diversify risk of our barley supply, we should. In New England and other areas of the US where both Winter and Spring barley can be grown, it makes economical sense to contract with farmers for both crops. Winter barley will mature sooner than spring and most likely the two will not be subjected to the same adverse weather conditions. This diversifies the risk for maltsters and farmers. Yeehaw.

Brewing and Distilling With better yields and possibly lower protein and enzyme content, winter barley should be attractive to craft brewers to meet the specifications for all malt brewing.

See you next Wednesday for another post about Winter Malting Barley. Until then, beards up!