New Variety Development

Supporting new varieties for all-malt beer
Over the past 20 years, American craft beer production has increased to the point that it consumes almost one-third of the annual U.S. malting barley crop. Always in the market for new, flavorful base malts, craft brewers are using their growing influence to support the development of new malting barley varieties for their all-malt beer.

For decades, Briess has actively supported and participated in the barley research.  A founding member of the American Malting Barley Association in 1983, Briess was the first and lone voice in the organization speaking on behalf of Craft Beer. As Craft Beer grew, our voice was joined by many craft brewers, distillers and small maltsters. In 2014, the AMBA Technical Committee representing 21 regular AMBA members added barley breeding guidelines for all-malt beer, to meet the requirements of the AMBA’s growing membership of 64 large and small all-malt beer members. Today, Briess continues to support the development of new barley varieties through AMBA membership, and our Barley Development Program.

Wyoming acquisition expanded research
The 2013 acquisition of a large barley processing facility in Wyoming has provided resources to grow our Barley Development Program:

  • The Briess Barley Operation is located near the University of Wyoming Research and Extension Center at Powell. This is the premier irrigated agricultural research and extension center in the Bighorn Basin. It offers test plots, a faculty researcher and additional staff resources all working on new seed development. Of its 220 acres, 175 are irrigated cropland. Research focuses include agronomic weed control, irrigation, cropping systems, high tunnel production, variety performance testing, transgenic variety response to herbicide treatments, and alternative crops. The center participates in numerous regional research and education projects. Briess has formed a close partnership with the Center, which grows test plots of new potential barley varieties for Briess for pilot malting and brewing.
  • Every year, Briess barley growers in the region are contracting to grow small fields of promising new varieties.
  • The combination of local test plots and low-acreage fields has allowed Briess to successfully scale up several varieties ahead of the typical 12-year new variety development cycle.

New barley development, from breeder to brewer
The Briess Barley Program operates on the premise that growing malting barley must equally benefit the grower, maltster and brewer. Growers look for varieties with increased yield, disease resistance, improved plant height, stronger straw and less lodging. For maltsters, qualities such as a high germination rate and water uptake are important. Brewers want lower protein, good flavor and solid brewhouse performance such as extract, throughput and lautering. Varieties must meet all these parameters before proceeding to scale up for industry acceptance.

Barley is a non-GMO, niche crop. Developing new barley varieties is a lengthy process, starting with barley breeding programs at North Dakota State University and Oregon State University. From concept to acceptance by AMBA for beer production, a new variety typically takes about 12 years. Literally thousands of academicians, scientists, growers, maltsters and supporting staff and services are involved throughout the stages of development.

As a specialty maltster with vertical integration from grower to brewer, our highly-trained staff and operations resources make it possible for us to participate in new barley variety development in an active and influential manner:

  • Connecting highly experienced growers with craft brewers for open communications and ideation
  • Partnering with barley breeders and the University of Wyoming Barley Research Center to research promising varieties
  • Contracting directly with growers to test promising varieties
  • Ability to segregate new varieties for pilot malting
  • Small-scale operations for pilot malting
  • Small-scale storage options for raw and finished malt
  • Small-scale packaging

Investing in new barley variety development is an investment for the success of our craft beer and better-for-you food customers. Our goal is to promote new varieties with increased yield, disease resistance, improved plant height, stronger straw, less lodging—all the things that make for better selection rates and increased return on investment for our growers—as well as broad acceptance by the Craft Brewers for flavor and brewhouse performance.