Understanding malt aging – how old is too old?

By Harmonie Bettenhausen, Director, Hartwick College Center for Craft Food & Beverage

Barley has a long journey from seedling to beverage (beer, spirit, etc.), but once it becomes malt, it can spend months or years in storage waiting to be mashed. With the assistance and collaborative efforts of Colorado State University, UC-Davis, Admiral Malting, and Colorado Malting Company, and financial support from AMBA and the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC), we have identified a gap in our knowledge regarding the dynamics of malt chemistry during storage. Malt quality is defined by the chemical characteristics which influence fermentation and brewing. However, after the malting process, the chemistry of the malt will continue to slowly change over time. We realized that aging malt, even under proper storage conditions, is exposed to oxygen and can lead to specific chemical processes (e.g. lipid oxidation which leads to rancidity), eventually yielding degraded quality.

Previous research in this area has focused on the use of metabolomics to investigate the chemical profile of barley, malt, and beer and the relationships to genetics, quality, and flavor. Metabolomics is the study of the unique small-molecule profiles that specific cellular processes leave behind. The chemical profile (metabolome) of barley, malt, and beer is very diverse and includes lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and volatile compounds. This type of investigation allows us to look at an instantaneous snapshot of the physiology of barley (or malt or beer), using chromatography (liquid or gas are used as a medium to help us separate molecules of interest) and mass spectrometry (the measurement of masses of molecules of interest). The chemical profile of aging malt can help us to find clues about our questions:

  1. In what ways does the metabolome composition of malt change over time?
  2. How rapidly does the composition change?
  3. Can we predict a ‘ripe’ stage for malt using our metabolite fingerprinting methods?
  4. Are malting quality analyses valid after long-term storage and aging of the malt?

Through our collaboration with Admiral Maltings and Colorado Malting Company, we were able to set up a real-time aging experiment under commercial conditions. At three time points, the aging malt was then brewed by the team at UC-Davis, malting quality analysis was performed by Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage. Sensory analysis of beer was performed in two settings – at The Rake at Admiral Maltings by a consumer panel and at Lagunitas Brewery (Petaluma, CA) by a trained panel. Sensory data, along with the quality and chemical profiling results, will lead us to the major outputs of our study; helping us discover the types of metabolites that are affected by storage and potential effects of storage time and conditions on brewing quality and flavor. Impacts on breeding, malting, and brewing programs could be significant if the markers to optimize malt quality for brewing in the context of storage are better understood. Those results will be shared at the conclusion of the research.

2022 Fusarium Head Blight Disease Impact Update published

The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI) is a national multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research consortium whose goal is to develop effective control measures that  minimize the threat of Fusarium Head Blight (scab), including the production of mycotoxins, for producers, processors and consumers of wheat and barley. The USWBSI’s annual budget comes from Federal funds appropriated through the USDA-ARS and is distributed to 150 research projects in more than 30 states. The American Malting Barley Association and National Barley Improvement Committee has been strong supporters and partners of the initiative since it’s inception in the mid-1990s. 

Report announcement republished with permission from: https://www.scabusa.org/index.php/fhb-disease-impact-updates

The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI) is pleased to announce the publishing of its 2022 Fusarium Head Blight Disease Impact Update. This year, commentary from 31 state specialists indicated most growers dealt with hot and dry conditions which were unfavorable for the development of Fusarium head blight (FHB, also known as scab). Thus, FHB did not impact grain yield and quality for most growers. A few isolated problems were found in areas where rainfall and high humidity levels coincided with heading and flowering. But in most cases, growers that were proactive with fungicide applications were able to mitigate their risk.

Click here to read the full report: 2022 Fusarium Head Blight Disease Impact Update

Article Feature: Malt Barley Yield and Quality Response to Nitrogen and Irrigation Termination Timing

This article was originally published in Crops & Soils (WERA-103) on October 11, 2022. It is posted here with permission from the authors. 

By Christopher W. Rogers, USDA-ARS, Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research, Kimberly, ID; Biswanath Dari, North Carolina State Extension, North Carolina State A&T, Greensboro, NC;  and Jason Walling, USDA-ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit, Madison, WI

Droughts in the western United States have led to an increased and pressing need to consider how to manage crops with less water for the future sustainability of production in the  region. Fertilizer nitrogen (N) recommendations in the western United States have often been determined where irrigation was a non-limiting factor. However, when irrigation is a  limiting factor, it is critical to consider the interrelationship with irrigation amounts and N applications rates as crop yield and quality can be heavily influenced in both positive and negative ways. An irrigation termination and N fertilizer rate study was conducted to investigate malt barley yield and quality response in Kimberly, ID.

Read the full article here.

Image: Small-plot barley irrigation research rate trial at the USDA-ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soil Research Laboratory Kimberly, ID. Photo by Dr. Christopher W. Rogers.


AMBA members take home hardware from the 2022 Great American Beer Festival

Last week at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), held in Denver, Colorado, a panel of expert judges reviewed 9,900+ entries in 98 beer categories covering 177 different beer styles. Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the top entries in each category. To receive a gold, an entry must be: “A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.” To aid in the celebration, a festival-style beer tasting event is also held for attendees to try first-hand the award-winning beers. 

AMBA would like to congratulate our member breweries that took home hardware from this year’s event! 

  • 10 Barrel Brewing Co.: Riviera (Bronze, ‘German Sour Ale’, 33 entries)
  • Allagash Brewing Co.: White (Gold, ‘Belgian-Style Witbier’, 96 entries)
  • Boston Beer Co.: Just The Haze (Gold, ‘Non-Alcohol Beer, 67 entries) and Vacation Sam Pina Colada IPA (Silver, ‘Experimental India Pale Ale’, 118 entries)
  • Breckenridge Brewery: Agave Wheat (Bronze, ‘American Wheat Beer’, 64 entries)
  • Cigar City Brewing: Maduro Brown Ale (Bronze, ‘Brown Porter’, 56 entries)
  • Deschutes Brewery: Hachimitsu Mai (Gold, ‘Honey Beer’, 74 entries), Sensationator (Silver, ‘Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer’, 59 entries), and Otter Encounter (Bronze, ‘English Ale’, 47 entries)
  • Elysian Brewing Co.: Night Owl (Gold, ‘Pumpkin Beer’, 77 entries)
  • Georgetown Brewing Co.: Gusto Crema Coffee Ale (Bronze, ‘Coffee Beer’, 84 entries)
  • MadTree Brewing Co.: Happy Amber (Gold, ‘Extra Special Bitter’, 65 entries)
  • Odell Brewing: Dark Helmet (Brozne, ‘Imperial Stout’, 73 entries)
  • Russian River Brewing Co.: Intinction – Sauvignon Blanc (Silver, ‘Fruited Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer’, 93 entries)
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: Sunny Little Thing (Bronze, ‘Fruit Wheat Beer’, 118 entries)
  • Sun King Brewing: Soul Shakedown Party (Silver, ‘Experimental Wood-Aged Beer’, 41 entries)
  • Von Ebert Brewing: Pils (Silver, ‘German-Style Pilsner’, 233 entries)

You can find the full list of winners at the GABF Website.

September Small Grains and Stocks Reports

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released their September 30, 2022 Small Grains Summary along with updated stock reports. 

Production was estimated at 174 million bushels, up 45 percent from the revised 2021 total of 120 million bushels. The average yield, at 71.7 bushels per acre, was up 11.4 bushel from the previous year. Producers seeded 2.95 million acres in 2022, up 9 percent from 2021. Harvested area, at 2.43 million acres, was up 22 percent from 2021. 

Record low planted acres were estimated in California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. Record low harvested acres were estimated in South Dakota and Wisconsin. Record high yields were estimated in Arizona and Idaho. Record low production was estimated in Wisconsin. 

Eleven percent of the Nation’s barley acreage was planted by April 10, one percentage point behind the previous year but 3 percentage points ahead of the 5-year average. Nationwide, barley producers seeded 24 percent of the Nation’s acreage by April 24, ten percentage points behind the previous year but matching the 5-year average. By April 24, emergence was evident in 3 percent of the Nation’s barley acreage, 6  percentage points behind the previous year and 3 percentage points behind the 5-year average. Nationally, 85 percent of the barley acreage was sown by May 29, nine percentage points behind the previous year, and 8 percentage points behind the 5-year average. Sixty-two percent of the barley acreage emerged by May 29, fifteen percentage points behind the previous year, and 10 percentage points behind the 5-year average. Heading of the Nation’s barley acreage advanced to 43 percent complete by July 3, fourteen percentage points behind the previous year and 10 percentage points behind the 5-year average. By July 31, barley producers harvested 6 percent of the Nation’s acreage, 5 percentage points behind the previous year but matching the 5-year average. Overall, 55 percent of the barley acreage was reported in good to excellent condition on August 7, compared with 24 percent at the same time last year. By September 11, ninety-one percent of the barley acreage was harvested, 5 percentage points behind the previous year and 1 percentage point behind the 5-year average.

Barley stocks in all positions on September 1, 2022 totaled 165 million bushels, up 22 percent from September 1, 2021. On-farm stocks are estimated at 121 million bushels, 56 percent above a year ago. Off-farm stocks, at 44.3 million bushels, are 23 percent below September 2021. The June – August 2022 indicated disappearance is 51.1 million bushels, 9 percent below the same period a year earlier.

You can access the September 30, 2022 USDA NASS Report; along with other historical acreage, production, and stock reports, from the AMBA website

You can find additional barley data at the NASS website

Canada Grains Council releases fact sheet on gene editing

The Canada Grains Council has released a fact sheet on gene editing technology that is a relatively new method plant breeders can use to make precise, targeted changes to a plant’s DNA. Recently, the Government of Canada has confirmed that gene-edited crops will be regulated much the same as conventionally-bred crops. Furthermore, Health Canada has determined that the targeted editing of a plant’s own DNA produces no greater human health risk than conventional plant breeding methods. The released fact sheet provides answers to common questions from value chain stakeholders about this new technology and its implementation.

The landscape in the United States is a bit more complicated, as was explored in the June 2022 webinar: Biotech & Barley that you can view here. To stay up to date with the most recent advancements in U.S. biotechnology regulation, visit this website. You can learn more about gene editing technologies from the Innovature website, hosted by the American Seed Trade Association.

Canada Grains Council fact sheet: https://ambainc.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/CGC-Gene-Editing-FAQs-English-final.pdf

Growing malting barley amid climate change; the challenge of pre-harvest sprouting

By Karl Kunze
Graduate Student, Cornell University, School of Integrative Plant Science Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, advised by Dr. Mark Sorrells

If you recall from the 2021 season, you almost certainly heard of the challenging weather conditions experienced growing barley across the country. Despite some regions facing extreme drought, rain was particularly high for other regions during harvest, which was detrimental for growing areas and malting barley varieties not adapted to rain that late in the season. For the last few decades, malting barley varieties have been selected for less dormancy so that when harvested, the barley can be malted more quickly. The tradeoff, however, means that once the barley reaches maturity, the barley is highly prone to germinate if enough moisture is present in the environment and this is called pre-harvest sprouting. Given increasingly unpredictable weather events due to climate change, rain events at harvest are becoming more common at locations not typically used to such conditions.

Future barley breeding must focus on selecting barley varieties that are resistant to pre-harvest sprouting but will also germinate quickly in the malt house and produce high quality malt. Fortunately, there is plenty of genetic variation that barley breeders can integrate into new varieties that can be both resistant to pre-harvest sprouting in the field but also produce high quality malt.

The Cornell Small Grains Breeding Program has been measuring pre-harvest sprouting on both wheat and barley lines to select varieties that are resistant to the condition. We start by making note of when each barley line has reached physiological maturity, or when the barley grain has completed development and no green is left in the barley head. This requires some careful examination of spikes to ensure that the sample is at that point. If we sample too early, the grain may not have developed completely, and pre-harvest sprout scores may be artificially low. If we sample too late, we do not have an accurate measure of when the barley reached maturity and thus, we cannot compare to other experimental lines. After we harvest 5 mature spikes from each experimental plot, we then have the barley further ripen for 3 (for spring barley) to 4 days (for winter barley). Those samples from each plot are then placed into flat trays and consistently misted for 3 days in the greenhouse to simulate a rain event that would occur in the field. After those 3 days, the trays are then removed and each of the 5 spikes are scored on a 0-9 scale for visible signs of pre-harvest sprouting. A score of 0 indicates no visible signs of pre-harvest sprouting, low scores indicate some pre-harvest sprouting, and high scores show clearly visible green coleoptile (shoots) on most of the kernels in the spike.

For the 2022 year alone, we analyzed over 450 experimental winter lines and 100 experimental spring lines for pre-harvest sprouting, in addition to all of our variety trials and cooperative nurseries. In our experimental trials, we use the pre-harvest sprouting information for two purposes. One is to potentially map genetic variation within our experimental populations. The second is to eliminate lines that we find to have moderate to high pre-harvest sprouting susceptibility. We screen all variety trials, including cooperative nurseries, to make recommendations on the potential risk of growing varieties that are susceptible to pre-harvest sprouting.

Selecting for pre-harvest sprouting is a balancing act, ensuring barley has some dormancy so that it does not germinate in the field but not so much dormancy so that the grain will not germinate well in the malt house. Our research in measuring both pre-harvest sprouting and seed dormancy in a spring and winter barley population indicates that this balance can be achieved. In spring barley, some of our parent lines were very prone to pre-harvest sprouting and thus we have had to select for more dormancy. In our winter malting barley population, we have had the opposite effect, where most lines are sufficiently resistant to pre-harvest sprouting but may have excessive dormancy that would not be desirable for malting quality. Over the winter of 2021-2022, we had the opportunity to perform nano malting on approximately 170 experimental lines at two different malting timepoints. So far, we have found that most experimental lines have acceptable malt quality. We have significant variation of seed dormancy at our earlier timepoints. Most of our non dormant lines were resistant to pre-harvest sprouting based on our field tests. Continuing work and collaboration with growers, maltsters, brewers and support from AMBA has allowed us to make progress in achieving this balance.


This research was funded, in part, by the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA), an agricultural trade organization representing the interests of end users of malting barley, including maltsters, brewers, distillers, and food processors. Our work seeks to maintain a stable and high quality supply of malting barley for our members throughout the U.S. AMBA’s direct investment, supported by member dues, augments state and federal funds allocated for barley research.

The core of AMBA’s research program is applied barley breeding and related support programs, including basic research. Other support is provided for research projects on diseases, insect pests, variety evaluation, production, management, and malting quality. Significant progress has been realized in the improvement of malting barley varieties as a result of the collaborative efforts of state and federal research facilities and industry partners. Concurrently, there is always the need for new varieties that reduce the risk to the grower, provide improved quality characteristics to the end-user, and remain competitive with other crop options. Understanding the balance between pre-harvest sprouting and dormancy is an excellent example of such a need.

Sherman elected to leadership role with the National Barley Improvement Committee

Dr. Jamie Sherman, associate professor and plant breeder with the Montana State University, was recently elected to the role of vice-chair of the National Barley Improvement Committee (NBIC). The NBIC is an organization representing the U.S. barley community of growers, researchers, processors, users, and allied industries that advocate for sound farm policy and research funding at the federal level. Leadership for the committee is provided by the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA). Sherman will serve as the vice-chair for two years and will assume the chair role in 2024 at the conclusion of current chair’s term, Corey Mosher. Mosher is a crop farmer from New York state and has been producing barley for the craft malt and beer industry.

Sherman has built a barley breeding program at Montana State University focused on the needs of the growers in Montana and of the malting barley industry. She has been especially interested in developing improved varieties that can be resilient to the challenges that a changing climate presents. Sherman, who has been a member of the committee since 2014, noted she is “looking forward to continuing to work together to improve barley for the whole supply chain and build support for that work.” She added she is “particularly excited about the new initiative planned to overcome challenges barley faces around the country.”

The primary activity of the NBIC is an annual legislative fly-in where the committee travels to Washington, D.C. to present industry priorities to their congressional members. The primary ask for the upcoming federal fiscal year is full funding of the Barley Pest Initiative, a collaborative effort to tackle over 20 insect and disease pressures through improved breeding and management practices. It currently receives $2 million of the $5.3 million requested annually. Tentatively, an additional $1 million has been written into both the Senate and House FY23 budgets. Visit the NBIC website to learn more about their work. 

August barley production report released; crop condition greatly improved from this time last year

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released their August 12, 2022 Crop Production Report. 

Production is forecast at 158 million bushels, up 34 percent from 2021. Based on conditions as of August 1, the average yield for the United States is forecast at 66.3 bushels per acre, up 5.9 bushels from last year. Area harvested for grain or seed, at 2.38 million acres is down 1 percent from the Acreage report released on June 30, 2022, but up 22 percent from 2021.  

Forty-three percent of the Nation’s barley acreage had reached the headed stage by July 3, fourteen percentage points behind last year and 10 percentage points behind the 5-year average. Seventy-nine percent of the Nation’s barley acreage had reached the headed stage by July 17, nine percentage points behind last year and 8 percentage points behind the 5-year average. Ninety-eight percent of the Nation’s barley acreage had reached the headed stage by July 31, equal to both last year and the 5-year average. By July 31, barley producers had harvested 6 percent of the Nation’s barley crop, 5 percentage points behind last year but equal to the 5-year average. On July 31, fifty-five percent of the Nation’s barley acreage was rated in good to excellent condition, 34 percentage points above the same time last year

You can access the August 12, 2022 USDA NASS Crop Production Report; along with other historical acreage, production, and stock reports, from the AMBA website

You can find additional barley data at the NASS website

SweetWater Brewing Company joins AMBA to stay connected to the barley supply chain

AMBA would like to formally welcome SweetWater Brewing Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia, as their newest associate member. SweetWater was founded in 1997 by two college buddies with “more of a hankering for beers than books.” Their quick success landed them as Small Brewery of the Year at GABF in 2002, becoming the first brewery east of the Mississippi to win. Through expansion in the southeast and into Colorado, they have consistently been a top 15 producer by volume, amongst their craft brewing peers. 

When asked their motivation for joining AMBA, Mark Medlin, brewmaster at SweetWater, mentioned their desire to stay informed on barley news and challenges and looks forward to the insightful and timely reports regarding the growing season and barley supply. 

AMBA is excited to bring on new members, like SweetWater, which furthers our mission to encourage and support production of an adequate supply of high quality malting barley for our various end-user members. This is accomplished by building a network of engaged barley interests so that the best available research informs the development and production of the U.S. malting barley crop. Learn more about joining AMBA today: https://ambainc.org/membership-information/.