Let me get this out of the way right now: Yes, I like to drink beer! And yes, it’s also one reason I have dedicated a big part of my life to being a barley breeder.
Breeding barley, especially malting barley, is fun because a lot of the work and conversation revolves around beer and the people involved in the community are very passionate about what they do. It’s hard to get bored in an environment like that.
The evolution of the beer culture in North America that we’ve seen over the past 15 years or so has been very exciting. The diversity of beers that were initially produced mainly by small craft brewers, but which are now being made by brewers of all sizes, has reinvigorated interest in beer and brought in a broader diversity of North American consumers to the community.
As a breeder, it is important to pay attention to these trends as this new wave of brewers and beers are potentially looking for different malting characteristics in barley varieties than the larger adjunct brewers that produce lighter beers. In response to this, we recently released a new malting barley variety, CDC Churchill, which was specifically targeted to all-malt brewers. In addition to having very high yields which will benefit the farmer, it has a different malt profile from typical Canadian malting varieties, being more similar to European malting barley, which should suit the all-malt brewer.
But that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about adjunct brewers whose beers occupy 85% of the market. CDC Fraser was released several ago to meet the needs of these brewers, combining excellent agronomic performance, a strong disease package and a malt profile similar to AC Metcalfe.
Currently, the malt barley industry is dominated by AC Metcalfe and CDC Copeland, but those varieties are almost 20 years old. Maltsters and brewers love them, but with the newer and better performing varieties like CDC Churchill and CDC Fraser coming into the market there are now good alternatives available that will meet the needs of farmers, maltsters and brewers.
Although releasing a successful malting barley variety takes time and patience, holding a glass of beer and knowing you had a small part to play in its creation is something to raise a glass to!