Mention a trip to Yakima or the Willamette Valley, and a brewer’s eyes will light up. There’s a certain romance to hop selection—walking the field, plucking plump cones from the bines, rubbing cuts of exciting new varieties. Sampling experimental hops has the power to inspire new recipes, potentially ending up in a future flagship pale ale or IPA. As breeding programs have accelerated their research and development, the beer industry has gained a common vocabulary for describing hop aromas and flavors.
Malt, on the other hand, hasn’t enjoyed the same limelight—and that affects how both brewers and drinkers think and talk about this foundational ingredient.
For years, the industry favored malt that had a relatively low flavor impact on beer, driven by the uniform needs of the largest breweries. Breeders and growers concentrated on agronomic targets such as yield and disease resistance, while maltsters focused on flavor stability, favoring barley varieties with more diastatic power and free amino nitrogen that were easier to modify. Depth and diversity of flavor were not the goal.