hist-brewing: historic barley types

Jeff Renner nerenner at umich.edu
Thu Feb 25 06:12:48 PST 1999

bjm10 at cornell.edu asked regarding 2-row vs. 6-row:

>So what should we use for "bear", in that case?  Likewise, when you say
>it is not authentic to "historic European beers", do you mean that it was
>introduced in the 1950s?

Sorry, I don't know what "bear" is.  No, 6-row is much older than that in
the US, but is never used in Europe for brewing.

>From the article I recommended, and still do, "A Comparison of North
American Two-Row and
Six-Row Malting Barley" by Paul Schwarz and Richard Horsley at
http://brewingtechniques.com/bmg/schwarz.html :

"Both two-row and six-row North American malted barley are rather different
from their European cousins and have developed distinctive new
characteristics. Genetics, climate, and breeding practices have produced a
rich variety of malt qualities from which to choose."

"It is widely believed that two-row barleys are the best barleys for
malting and brewing (1). In fact, outside North America most of the world's
brewing nations exclusively use two-row barley for malt. Six-row barleys,
if produced overseas at all, are largely used only for feed."

It is important to realize that American 6-row malting barley is not "feed
barley."  It has been improved by breeding to be highly suitable for
brewing, especially with unmalted cereal adjuncts.  Also note that US 2-row
is different from European 2-row.  However, as I stated in the previous
hist-brewing, modern European barley has also been modified (see below for
more discussion).

>What distinguishes "historic" in your usage?  It's important for me,
>since my interest ranges from earliest documentation to the Prohibition era.

For European beers, only 2-row is authentic.  For American, it is evident
that 6-row was grown very early, as sson as the frontier was extended to
western New York.  I can't remember my dates exactly, but I'm sure that was
by the late 18th Century.  By mid to late 19th C, I believe that virtually
all barley grown in the US was 6-row.  At this point, I greatly doubt that
anyone differentiated between malting barley and feed barley.  I have seen
a photo of some small old post Civil War brewery (in Pennsylvania?) with a
large sign on it saying, "Barley Bought."  You couldn't just Fax Schreier
for a truckload.  Again from the previous article:

"Cultivated barley (Hordeum vulgare) is not native to North  America.
English, Dutch, and French traders introduced barley to the eastern
seaboard during the early years of European settlement (2,3). The Spanish
introduced it to Mexico and the American Southwest. The imported English
two-row barley enjoyed adequate growing conditions on the coast, but as
production spread into western New York, six-row barley production
dominated because of the climate."

Michael Jackson argues that barley variety is more important than is
commonly realized.  See his article A TREND THAT GOES AGAINST THE GRAIN in
the Summer,1995, Vol. 4 #3 Malt Advocate
http://www.realbeer.com/maltadvocate//u95/U95JCKSN.html for discussion on
how modern varieties are crowding out only slightly older, apparently more
superior (for brewing and distilling) varieties such as Maris Otter and
Golden Promise.  In it, Jackson describes how he could detect the lower
quality in a batch of freshly distilled Macallan whisky that came from a
batch where a supplier had substituted 50% of some lesser quality barley.
Traditional British brewers insist on these older varieties as well.

It is evident that any available variety is going to be a modern variety.
The famous British Maris varieties (Otter, Badger, etc.) date only to pre
WWII, as I recall.  There are some old varieties of wheat (some 6 feet
tall!) still grown by fanatics (like us) of historic grains.  Some of these
have been recovered from the thatching of old houses.  Neat, huh?  I
imagine that similar varieties of barley are grown.  No doubt there are
societies in England that could provide additional resources.  England is
famous for these.

For more information, see the American Malting Barley Assoc. site at
http://www.ambainc.org/index.htm , especially the links page.

Jeff Renner in Ann Arbor, Michigan c/o nerenner at umich.edu
"One never knows, do one?"  Fats Waller, American Musician, 1904-1943. 

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