Earlier this year, the Craft Maltsters Guild awarded Dr. Paul Schwarz, Professor of Malting Barley Quality at North Dakota State University, the coveted Soles of Malt Award for his teaching and mentorship of countless students who now work in the malting, brewing, and food science industries. His contributions to the community come focused on crop diseases, beer gushing, and malt quality analysis. 

We asked Paul about his 45 years of experience. Pour yourself a pint and read on!

Congratulations on your Soles of Malt Award recognition.

The Soles of Malt Award was a real unexpected honor. I feel privileged to be in the company of past awardees, Andrea Stanley, Aaron Macleod, Dave Thomas, and Ryan Hamilton. I have worked with each of them on projects, and I have also known Twila Soles (award founder) for a long time. Andrea was key in introducing me to the world of craft malt, and I’ve known Dave for eons, largely through the American Society of Brewing Chemists functions. I actually had the opportunity to work for Dave when I was on sabbatical at Coors for a year in the late 1990s. 

You have a background in food safety. How did that lead to your career in craft malt? 

I grew up in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and there was never really any question on which university I would attend – UW-Madison. Because of my interest in grains, I selected Agronomy as a major. As a student, I was able to work part-time with the barley and oat breeding project. As my interests were really a little more post-harvest oriented, as opposed to the field, I picked up extra chemistry and food science courses. 

The semester prior to graduation, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s degree. At the time the only two academic programs in the US that had education related to malting and brewing were UC-Davis and North Dakota State University. I selected Cereal Chemistry at NDSU because of the malting focus. For my Masters of Science (MS), I worked on lipoxygenase in barley and malt, a project that was funded by Anheuser Busch. 

Near the end of my MS, I had the opportunity to complete a practicum in brewing at the A. Egger Brauerei in Worb, Switzerland. This was a small family brewery located in northwestern Switzerland, near the home of some of my Swiss cousins. The job involved training in all aspects of brewing operations, including horse and wagon delivery to restaurants and consumer homes. 

On my return to NDSU, my MS advisor had moved on to a job in research and development at Coors. I was offered a Ph.D. stipend by USDA and went on to work on characterizing dietary fiber components in wheat bran. This was the 1980s and dietary fiber was a hot topic. Upon completion of my Ph.D., I took over management of the department’s barley and malt quality lab. This was in a post-doctoral position supported by Anheuser Busch. I was hired as an assistant professor about a year later.

When I moved to North Dakota a little over 40 years ago, I never imagined staying for more than a couple of years. The pieces fell in place. It’s been a good experience, and I had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people around the world. My relationship with our barley breeder, Dr. Rich Horsley is especially enjoyable and productive. I’ve also had some excellent graduate students and post-doctorates over the years, a few of whom are now employed in the malting and brewing world.

Did you have any ah-ha moments that solidified the trajectory of your career in the industry?

It started when I was an undergraduate and got a summer job with Kurth Malting in Milwaukee. This was initially exciting as I joined the United Brewery Workers and was paid about $8.00/hr (the minimum wage at the time was $2.00/hr). In any case, I worked there a couple of summers, and it furthered my interest in malting and brewing.

I first heard the term “craft malt” in 2010, when I was a professor at North Dakota State University. NDSU had offered a short course in barley and malt since 1984 in cooperation with the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo. In 2010 we had a participant from Massachusetts who said they planned to open a malthouse. This was Andrea Stanley, and through Andrea and Christian, we were able to meet many of the early innovators in craft malting and local grains and attend the initial Guild meetings. 

It was also about this time that the NDSU barley breeder, Dr. Rich Horsley, and I started receiving more and more questions on malting and growing barley in what was or had become non-traditional regions. In response, we developed a Barley Field School which was first offered in 2013. Rich also developed the Eastern Spring Barley Nursery (ESBN) which worked to evaluate the performance of malting barley varieties in cooperation with researchers in nine northeastern and Great Lakes states. 

Following Andrea’s attendance at our malt quality short course, we really started to see an increase in numbers and a shift in demographics, with more participants interested in craft malting, craft distilling, or growing barley. For many years, ours was the only malt-related course offered in the US, and traditional participants were generally from the major malting and brewing companies. However, with the consolidation and downsizing in several large companies, this participation had been waning. Craft malting was an exciting development for us on the barley research side, as it presented a new group of individuals to work with, and opportunities to learn.

What are you working on in 2021? 

An important function of the barley quality program at NDSU has traditionally been the evaluation of the malt quality of lines from the NDSU breeding program, and the survey of regional barley crop quality (this is considered a service component). 

In terms of research, the barley quality program at NDSU has relied heavily on industry funding. Over the years my main supporters have been the North Dakota Barley Council, the American Malting Barley Association, and Busch Agricultural Resources. Consequently, much of the research has been directed at the immediate needs of the growers or within the industry. This has been in diverse areas and has generated hundred-some publications.

Much of my research has focused on Fusarium Head Blight and mycotoxins. This came about when FHB and deoxynivalenol (DON) started to become a significant issue in the 1990s. I think we were the first to identify the development of DON during malting. We currently test DON for most of the US research programs working on FHB in barley, and this work has long been supported by the USDA-funded US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. Most recently, Dr. Zhao Jin, a post-doctorate in my lab, has used confocal laser scanning microscopy to identify patterns of fungal growth within kernels of FHB infected barley, wheat, and rye, during malting. The significance of this work for maltsters is that it may help address the question of why DON increases during the malting of some samples and not others. This work was recently published in Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, and she has also submitted additional work to the American Society of Brewing Chemists.

Why do you think the craft malt community is important? 

I must admit I might have been a little skeptical of the idea of craft malt back in 2010, but I have really been impressed by the growth of the community. I believe what is key is that craft malt is helping to change the perception of barley and malt from what many brewers viewed as a commodity, to a key and essential ingredient. It’s been a good model for local grains and helps to increase consumer awareness. 

Craft malt has also been a good opportunity for growers to add value, and we now have two grower/maltster operations within a few hours of Fargo. On a personal level, I have to say craft malt has brought back the “fun” component to my job. It’s a pleasure to work with a diverse group of individuals who also think malt is important and interesting.