Promising barley variety receives exposure

In the world of malting and brewing, many promising new barley varieties never see the light of day.

That’s because big brewing companies are often reluctant to change their brewing recipes and try something new.

Matt Enns, a micro-maltster based in central Saskatchewan, is doing his part to ensure that one of Saskatchewan’s most promising new barley varieties gets a fair shake.

Enns, the owner of Rosthern-based Maker’s Malt, recently agreed to take part in a pilot project involving Bow barley, a variety developed at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and distributed through SeCan.

The pilot project is aimed at getting Bow into the hands of Saskatchewan-based craft brewers, who will assess the barley’s performance, its taste and its suitability for craft beer production.

“The Bow project started when SeCan approached Maker’s and asked if we’d be willing to malt and distribute Bow to some of the craft brewers in Saskatchewan,” Enns said.

“We immediately agreed.”

“Agronomically, Bow is really strong. It produces a heavy, robust crop with good yields and it also stands up very well, which means it’s less prone to quality issues like chitting.”

“With this project, we’ll get a chance to learn more about its malting and brewing characteristics and see if it’s a good fit for the craft brewing market.”

Bow is a relatively new variety to Saskatchewan, but brewing tests at the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) in Winnipeg have already identified it as a variety with promising potential, particular in the craft market.

In late 2018, it was included on the CMBTC’s Recommended Varieties list with market demand described as “growing.”

It was developed by Aaron Beattie at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre and was registered in mid-2015.

The variety has been in multiplication for the past three years and became available to the province’s commercial barley producers in late 2017.

Acreage of Bow is still relatively small, but Enns’s experience with the variety has been positive.

Over several years of testing by the Saskatchewan Variety Performance Group (SVPG), Bow outyielded the check variety, AC Metcalfe, by 11 percent and earned a VG (very good) rating for lodging resistance.

At the request of SeCan, Maker’s malted two batches of Bow at its new micro-malting facility in Rosthern and distributed more than 200 bags of finished malt to 14 craft brewers in the province.

The product was also made available to members of home brewing clubs in Saskatoon and Regina.

“We managed to get a really good percentage of the province’s craft brewers involved, so we’re hoping to learn as much as we can about its malting and brewing performance,” Enns said.

“For example, we’ll get a chance to see if Bow shines in a simple smash, where you get a sense of its malting characteristics. Does it shine in a high gravity beer, and are there certain beer styles or flavours where its characteristics come through?”

Enns said the project will generate a wide range of data from technical analytical information that look at issues such as brew house efficiency and extract levels to subjective feedback based on brewers’ experiences and taste preferences.

Participating craft brewers were given quite a bit of latitude in determining how the malt would be used and tested, Enns added.

Some brewers will use it in unique or new beer recipes. Others are using it in existing recipes and will compare the outcomes with the same beer made from different varieties.

In one instance, a Saskatoon-based brewer will use Bow in its Kolsch-style beer recipe and will compare the outcomes with the same recipe made with Copeland malt.

Experienced beer drinkers with “educated beer palates” will sample and compare in a head-to-head taste test.

Enns and Beattie planned to join beer drinkers last week at an event at Beer Brothers in Regina to discuss the project and its outcomes … and of course to taste some beers brewed with Bow.

Enns said the pilot project will help a promising new variety gain important exposure among craft brewers.

If its performance proves positive, chances of gaining additional market traction should improve, he added.

“When you’re selling craft beers, quality is very important, but it also helps if you have a story to tell,” Enns said.

“The story of Bow barley in Saskatchewan is pretty amazing.

“It was developed by Aaron Beattie at the U of S — about 60 kilometres down the road — it’s gaining attention among the province’s barley growers and we think it’s a great fit for Saskatchewan craft brewers.”

Enns said today’s consumers are interested in knowing that the products they consume contain quality, local ingredients.

“Farm-to-fork” stories resonate with all types of consumers, including beer drinkers, he added.

“Maybe people that don’t even drink a lot of beer or follow the malting and brewing industries will hear this story and think it’s great,” Enns said.

“We’re hoping we’ll get a lot of traction.”

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