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How much barley goes into a beer?

How much barley does it take to make a bottle beer? The answer to that question depends on the type of beer, according to North Dakota State University professor Paul Schwarz, who has spent a career searching for the best kind of barley for beer ...

Photo by James Odermann Barley from the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center test plots is shown July 10. It takes between 13 to 123 heads (or 830 to 3,375 kernels) of barley to produce a 12 ounce bottle of beer.
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How much barley does it take to make a bottle beer?

The answer to that question depends on the type of beer, according to North Dakota State University professor Paul Schwarz, who has spent a career searching for the best kind of barley for beer makers.

Barley and its importance to agricultural producers and beer were front and center at the Dickinson Research Extension Center's annual Summer Field Day held in early July at its headquarters.

North Dakota ranks as one of the top states in barley production, which is a major ingredient of beer. Producers and brewers shared ideas and needs during presentations about the crop as part of the field day program.

As director of the Institute for Barley and Malt Sciences located on the NDSU campus in Fargo, Schwarz works with growers and brewers. His area of specialization is cereal chemistry, specifically looking at malting and brewing quality of barley.


Schwarz said he works closely with Rich Horsley, North Dakota State University plant sciences department chair and barley breeder, "evaluating the malting quality of new barley lines that he (Horsley) is developing."

"We work closely with the brewing industry in terms of getting input on what they are looking for in terms of quality," Schwarz said.

Horsley and Schwarz headlined a field day program titled "Barley: From Prohibition to Present Times."

Horsley called the presentation "a fun stroll through" the decades from the 1930s through 2013. He pointed to the various varieties of barley, explaining that brewers did not like some of the early varieties.

The game changer, according to Horsley, was the advent of Larker, a barley variety released by NDSU in 1961 and was the predominate variety through the 1970s. NDSU has continued to develop new varieties, expanding its research from six-row barley to include two-row barley.

How much barley

goes into beer?

So exactly how much barley goes into a 12-ounce bottle of beer?


"(It) depends on the type of beer that we are looking at," Horsley said. "Right now in the United States, actually for many years the most popular and best-selling beers are the light or low-calorie beers. Those beers tend to use a little less malt but on average, if we looked at all beers, it would be about 1 ounce of barley going into a bottle of beer."

Schwarz said beer is basically four ingredients: water, malt, adjunct grain (corn, rice, or corn syrup) and hops. The use of adjunct grains became popular in the late 1800s because the barley supply did not meet the demand and protein levels in barley were too high for bottled beer.

One of the challenges with barley production in the past was high protein, an anomaly when compared with other crops.

"Barley is unusual; in most of your cereal crops, you want high protein," Horsley said. "Barley is different; you want low protein."

High-protein barley produces "a haze" in the beer and use of the adjunct grains dilutes the protein and reduces the risk of haze.

"Malt is the soul of beer," Schwarz said, noting various barley varieties grown have unique flavor and brewing characteristics.

Malt is sprouted barley that changes the grain into a form more suitable for brewing. The sprouted barley produces enzymes that are important to break the starch down into fermentable sugar.

The sprouted grain is dried to about four percent moisture, and malt contributes most of the color and much of flavor for the beer.


Put another way, a 12-ounce bottle of lite beer contains about 13 heads of six-row barley, 35 heads of two-row barley or about 830 to 950 kernels.

The same 12-ounce bottle of craft ale or specialty beer would use 47 heads of six-row barley, 123 heads of two-row barley or 2,950 to 3,375 kernels.

In the end, Schwarz said, "Without barley, we have no beer, so, I certainly encourage you to thank your barley grower."

Finding new varieties

The NDSU Plant Sciences Department and the North Dakota Barley Council work together in developing and testing new varieties. North Dakota has long been the barley growing king of the United States. Depending on the year, North Dakota farmers have produced 35 percent to 50 percent of the annual U.S. production.

Today, North Dakota farmers are using newer varieties, all which were part of the Research Extension Center's exhibition.

Horsley pointed to six-row varieties like Robust, Lacey, Legacy, Tradition and Drummond. Two-row varieties commonly used today are Conlon (named after Thomas J. Conlon, who served as director of the Dickinson Research Extension Center for over 20 years), AC Metcalfe, Bowman and Stark.

Horsley said varieties of wheat, soybean or corn have a lifespan of three to five years.

"It is not unusual for a barley variety to last 20 or 25 years," Horsley said.

North Dakota was the king of barley production for many years. It still remains a top producer.

North Dakota was a six-row barley breeding research bonanza for 20 years, beginning in the 1950s. In the mid-1970s, barley research began including a two-row breeding program.

Today, Dickinson Research Extension Center agronomist Pat Carr works closely with Horsley and the NDSU barley breeding network.

New six-row and two-row barley varieties are tested not only in southwest North Dakota but throughout the state.

New varieties are evaluated by the malting and brewing industry (as well as producers) and the standards from the past must be met or exceeded.

"New varieties cannot impact flavor, brewing time or any of those other important characteristics," Horsley told the producers and brewers in attendance at the field day, noting the malting and brewing industry wants consistency in its beer.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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