The Ter­roir of Bar­ley

Peo­ple un­der­stand how ter­roir af­fects wine, hops, and even cof­fee, but how ter­roir af­fects bar­ley hasn’t re­ally been ex­plored in great de­tail. That’s chang­ing, and Don Tse ex­plains how one Al­berta brew­ery hopes to el­e­vate beer’s un­ex­plored in­gre­di­ent.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Peo­ple un­der­stand how ter­roir af­fects wine, hops, and even cof­fee, but how ter­roir af­fects bar­ley hasn’t re­ally been ex­plored in great de­tail. That’s chang­ing, and Don Tse ex­plains how one Al­berta brew­ery hopes to el­e­vate beer’s un­ex­plored in­gre­di­ent.

“WE WANTED TO DO

some­thing to pro­pel the in­dus­try for­ward,” ex­plains Char­lie Bredo, co­founder and pres­i­dent of Trou­bled Monk brew­ery. “Al­berta is very proud of its bar­ley, but we don’t do enough to pump up our own tires.”

Trou­bled Monk is lo­cated in Red Deer, Al­berta, a city of only 100,000 peo­ple in the heart of Canada’s bar­ley belt. In 2016, Trou­bled Monk won a medal at the World Beer Cup for its malt-for­ward Open Road Amer­i­can Brown Ale, so they know a thing or two about show­cas­ing malt through beer.

Bar­ley Throw­down

“Peo­ple un­der­stand how ter­roir af­fects wine, hops, and even cof­fee, but how ter­roir af­fects bar­ley hasn’t re­ally been ex­plored,” says Bredo of the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind Trou­bled Monk’s “Bat­tle of Al­berta Bar­ley” project, which in­volved brew­ing the same beer three times, each with the same type of bar­ley, but grown in three dif­fer­ent re­gions of Al­berta.

Trou­bled Monk con­tacted Rahr Malt­ing, their pri­mary malt sup­plier, to see how this could be done. Nor­mally, Rahr would malt bar­ley blended from the hun­dreds of farm­ers with which it works to cre­ate con­sis­tency—some­thing that brew­eries usu­ally cher­ish. For this project, though, Rahr went through more than 2,500 in­di­vid­ual batches of bar­ley look­ing for three that were as iden­ti­cal as pos­si­ble by ob­jec­tive mea­sures.

The three that were even­tu­ally se­lected were of the same bar­ley va­ri­ety (Copeland) and had nearly iden­ti­cal lev­els of pro­tein, al­pha amy­lase, free amino ni­tro­gen (FAN), and de­oxyni­valenol (DON). Such sim­i­lar batches of bar­ley were se­lected so that any re­sult­ing dif­fer­ences in the beer could be at­trib­uted solely to the ter­roir, the three batches hav­ing come from north­ern, cen­tral, and south­ern Al­berta.

“In wine, when you talk about ter­roir, you are typ­i­cally talk­ing about soil types,” ex­plains Bob Sut­ton, a vice pres­i­dent at Rahr. “But not for bar­ley. The soil has to be the same be­cause bar­ley grows best in black loam soil. What is in­ter­est­ing about this project is that the dif­fer­ences in bar­ley ter­roir come from dif­fer­ences in cli­mate.”

“I could see dif­fer­ences among the [batches of] bar­ley right away,” says Gar­ret Haynes, head brewer at Trou­bled Monk, “though there weren’t a lot of sen­sory dif­fer­ences from smelling and chew­ing the bar­ley.” Sut­ton ex­plains, “The outer husk of bar­ley is cel­lu­lose, so it dark­ens with rain, just like if you spill wa­ter on pa­per. Bar­ley grown in wet­ter cli­mates will be darker from this stain­ing.”

The three batches of bar­ley were sent to Red Shed Malt­ing, a lo­cal mi­cro-malt­ster, for malt­ing, since Rahr’s Al­berta fa­cil­ity is far too large to make the small batches of malt needed for the project.

“Once we got our hands on the bar­ley, we wanted to treat the batches of bar­ley as con­sis­tently as pos­si­ble,” says Matt Hamill, malt­ster at Red Shed. The

Ul­ti­mately, Trou­bled Monk’s pur­pose in un­der­tak­ing the bar­ley-ter­roir project was to shed light on the beauty of bar­ley and to start a con­ver­sa­tion with re­spect to bar­ley sim­i­lar to what has al­ready been go­ing on with hops for years. While this project may have raised more ques­tions than it an­swered, that was sort of the point. De­spite be­ing the foun­da­tion of beer, bar­ley re­mains a largely un­ex­plored area for small brew­ers.

malt­ing process plays an enor­mous role in the fla­vor of beer, and a malt­ster would nor­mally man­age the malt­ing process to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ences in bar­ley, but for this project, Red Shed was care­ful to use the same steep­ing cy­cle for all three batches of bar­ley.

The fin­ished batches of malt were then sent to Trou­bled Monk. Haynes ob­served that the malt had re­tained the color dif­fer­ences he had no­ticed in the bar­ley, “and now we could pick up sen­sory dif­fer­ences from chew­ing the malt and from steeped teas we made with the malt,” he says. “One was more clas­si­cally bready while the other two had some grass notes.”

Haynes then brewed three ver­sions of Trou­bled Monk’s flag­ship Golden Gaetz Golden Ale with the three batches of malt. Where the reg­u­lar recipe for Golden Gaetz calls for a small amount of Cara­pils malt, to honor the in­tegrity of this ter­roir project, Haynes re­placed the Cara­pils malt with raw un­malted bar­ley of the same batch used to the make each beer.

The beers were sold as a 6-pack, with two cans of each of the three beers.

Sub­tle Dif­fer­ences

At the con­sumer level, peo­ple noted dif­fer­ences, though they were sub­tle. De­spite this sub­tlety, sev­eral batches of each of the three beers were made, and both Bredo and Haynes could con­sis­tently tell them apart, so dif­fer­ences were cer­tainly present.

To the knowl­edge of Trou­bled Monk, Rahr, and Red Shed, this is the first time a bar­ley ex­per­i­ment of this type has ever been con­ducted. “I’m hop­ing this gets the con­ver­sa­tion started on ter­roir in bar­ley,” says Bredo. Red Shed’s Hamill agrees. “It was great to see that there were qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ences and that ev­ery­one had a dif­fer­ent fa­vorite,” he says. “This ex­per­i­ment ex­pands in­ter­est in dif­fer­ences in base malt, and we’ve got­ten good feed­back.”

While hops have been in the beer spot­light for a num­ber of years, many in the beer in­dus­try pre­dict that craft malt is the fu­ture. As brew­ers seek to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves and con­nect drinkers to a sense of place, there is a grow­ing in­ter­est in dif­fer­ences in bar­ley va­ri­ety and ter­roir.

“Un­like hops or even wine grapes, which aren’t re­ally pro­cessed, bar­ley has to be malted, so the malt­ster has a huge im­pact on the fi­nal fla­vor of the malt,” says Rahr’s Sut­ton. “Plus, while hops, grapes, and even cof­fee grow in the same place on the same plant ev­ery year, bar­ley farm­ers have to ro­tate their crops, plant­ing bar­ley on dif­fer­ent parts of their land each year.”

All of the ex­tra vari­ables at play in malt make the sub­ject ex­tra in­ter­est­ing, but it also makes it un­likely that there will ever be vin­tage-dated beers based on bar­ley since there are too many things in mo­tion. Also, since lighter-bod­ied beers, where base malt shines, are gen­er­ally in­tended to be con­sumed fresh, ver­ti­cal tast­ings of vin­tages be­comes dif­fi­cult. Dif­fer­ences from beer stal­ing would out­weigh dif­fer­ences in ter­roir.

De­spite these ob­sta­cles, there is en­thu­si­asm among all the par­ties in­volved. Sut­ton ob­serves that “there’s an op­por­tu­nity [for brew­ers to vary their] beer from year to year and tell a good story.” Hamill, on be­half of mi­cro-malt­sters ob­serves, “If there’s a dif­fer­ence in ter­roir in bar­ley, it’s an ad­van­tage for [small malt­sters], so it was great to see that there were qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ences in the malt and beer.” Trou­bled Monk’s Haynes has sim­i­lar hopes: “I hope this cre­ates in­ter­est in bar­ley so peo­ple can feel more con­nected to where their beer comes from.”

Try This at Home?

This project was lo­gis­ti­cally dif­fi­cult even for the com­mer­cial en­ti­ties in­volved. It will be dif­fi­cult for in­ter­ested home­brew­ers to ex­plore bar­ley ter­roir on their own, un­less they know some farm­ers from whom they can get raw bar­ley and then malt it at home.

It will be nearly im­pos­si­ble for home­brew­ers to get batches of bar­ley with iden­ti­cal ob­jec­tive mea­sure­ments as Rahr did for this project, but even so, such a home­brew­ing ex­per­i­ment could yield more var­ied re­sults, which might be just as in­ter­est­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, Trou­bled Monk’s pur­pose in un­der­tak­ing the bar­ley-ter­roir project was to shed light on the beauty of bar­ley and to start a con­ver­sa­tion with re­spect to bar­ley sim­i­lar to what has al­ready been go­ing on with hops for years. While this project may have raised more ques­tions than it an­swered, that was sort of the point. De­spite be­ing the foun­da­tion of beer, bar­ley re­mains a largely un­ex­plored area for small brew­ers.

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