Malting Barley in NC
by Molly Hamilton and Chris Reberg-Horton, Crop Science, NCSU
The local craft brewing and distilling industries are increasingly interested in using NC-grown barley, wheat, and rye malt to make their beers and alcohols. Riverbend Malt House, located in Asheville, began malting organic barley and wheat grown near Salisbury in 2011. They sell their malt to a number of breweries in the Asheville and Triangle areas. Two other “micro” malt houses in NC are in the planning and building stages and should be on-line within a year.
Malted barley (and other malted small grain) is created by stimulating the grain to germinate in water, then halting the germination process with hot air. During the malting process the grain’s starches are modified into sugars which help give beer its flavor and texture.
Barley varieties bred specifically for malting are not usually grown in NC. “Two-row” varieties, where the grain head has two rows of kernels, are the most desirable type for malting because they have large, uniform kernels. But, only two of the varieties, ‘Charles’ and ‘Endeavor’, are winter types and are able to grow in NC. These two varieties are also susceptible to many small grain diseases in the region. “Six-row” barley varieties, which have 6 rows of kernels on the grain head, are typically grown here and have better disease resistance. However, only a few of these varieties have good malting qualities, most notably, ‘Thoroughbred’.
Grower interest in this niche grain market is increasing as the demand is increasing. This fall, four growers (organic and conventional) planted barley, wheat, and rye with a hope to meet the market for malting.
Researchers at Virginia Tech and USDA-ARS in NC are working on variety testing and development of malting barleys for the southeast. Researchers at NCSU plan to help tease out the agronomics of malting barley as there are some minor, but important, differences in fertility needs and disease management. Test plots have been planted this fall in NC—variety and breeding trials as well as production trials. We will keep you updated this interesting work!