Barley and Beer

Monday, September 26th, 2016


Have you ever had that moment at a braai? Those few seconds of silence when the boerie is sizzling but the conversation runs cold. You turn your beer and for some reason take a look at the ingredients. One in particular stands out; malted barley. So what is it, and what does it have to do with beer?

Barley comes from the barley plant; it is a grain and looks similar to wheat but is covered with a husk. It can be used for many different things including barley bread and even as an ingredient in soups and stews. But what it is best for, is beer!


What does barley do for beer?

Every brew needs a form of starch. What this starch does is provide a substance that can ferment to form alcohol, it also adds flavour and colour to the beer. Different types of barley are used to brew different beers; each type gives a unique taste.

There are three major types of barley plants. What makes them different from each other is the number of rows of barley seeds that grow on the barley ear. They grow in 2, 4 and 6 rows. Brewers usually use either 2 or 6-row barley. In general 6-row malted barley contains more protein than 2-row barley. It is also less plump and contains less carbohydrates.


What is malting?

But it doesn’t just say barley, it says malted barley. So what is malting? Malting is the process of converting barley into malted barley. To do this, barley is put into water for a specific amount of time so that the barley can absorb the water and start to sprout. This process releases the seed’s stored energy and converts some of it, into simpler sugars.

It is then heated with warm, dry air to reduce the moisture. How long it is heated for and to what temperature is a big factor in the taste and type of beer. A lightly-roasted malt will produce a very pale beer. Deeply roasted malts produce darker beers and stouts.


Barley in South Africa

Because barley is so instrumental in the brewing of beer, the South African Barley Breeding Institute was formed. The reason it was formed was to breed new varieties of barley that offered better yields, are more sustainable and are of a better quality. To find out more about the South African Barley Breeding Institute and the amazing work they are doing, click here.

Better Barley, Better Beer, a programme which encourages and supports sustainable farming practices amongst South Africa’s barley farmers. It focuses on three pillars of sustainability namely economics, socio-economics and environmental aspects of making the barley producers more sustainable as a farmer this includes but are not limited to:

Water reduction, improved carbon footprints, soil health and clearing of alien vegetation, as well as the protection and restoration of ecosystems. To find out more about Better Barley, Better Beer, click here.


SO NEXT TIME THE CONVERSATION RUNS COLD, share some knowledge with your friends about the importance of barley in beer.




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