Barley varieties for climate change beers

New strains of malting barley and more efficient production methods will be the keys to maintaining beer production in the face of climate change, according to two leading industry figures. ABB Grain malting subsidiary Joe White Maltings Technical Manager Dr Doug Stewart, and Coopers Brewery Managing Director and Chief Brewer Dr Tim Cooper, said suggestions that climate change would lead to reduced barley crops and higher prices were of serious concern.

The claims were made by New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger, at the recent Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention in New Zealand. Dr Salinger said it was likely climate change would cause a decline in production of malting barley in parts of Australia and New Zealand as dry areas became drier and water shortages worsened.

However, Dr Stewart of Joe White Maltings said variable climate, marked by more frequent, severe frost and drought was a greater threat to regular barley production than gradual climate change.

“The Barley Improvement Group at the University of Adelaide, headed by Dr Jason Eglinton, is making considerable improvements in the area of frost and drought tolerance,” he said.

“This is being achieved by crossing relatives of barley sourced from remote areas of the world, such as Syria, Ethiopia and Alaska, with our own varieties to introduce frost and drought tolerance using conventional breeding.”

He said new forms of barley were constantly being assessed for their suitability for use in brewing. One example had been the Flagship variety of barley developed by the University of Adelaide and commercialised by ABB Grain.

Flagship barley boasts improved grain yield and disease resistance and was the result of a 10-year project by the University of Adelaide in which ABB Grain was actively involved. Coopers used Flagship last year for the first time in production of a limited amount of beer.

Dr Cooper said Flagship offered substantial benefits for both brewers and growers over the normally used Gairdner variety. “Flagship was designed specifically as a higher yielding, superior quality malting barley, which enables brewers to make better beer as well as providing better returns to growers.”

“It certainly provided more fermentable extract after malting. We were very pleased with the results of the initial brew and will be looking to use the grain across our full range of beers and malt extracts once it is commercially available.

“Projects like this show the industry is not standing still,” Dr Cooper said.

Dr Stewart said the malting industry was also examining ways to reduce water use in the malthouse. “Joe White Maltings is working with the University of Adelaide to develop barley varieties that will require 30% to 40% less water to make into malt, as well as adjusting its own processes in the malthouse to further reduce water use.

“Flagship has also shown promise as a low water use variety.”

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