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Linking Barley Varieties to the Taste of Your Beer

It’s an immensely complex task, but sensory science and chemical analysis are bringing us closer to understanding the relationship between barley genetics and beer flavor.

Ben Keene Oct 11, 2021 - 12 min read

Linking Barley Varieties to the Taste of Your Beer Primary Image

Photo: Patrick Hayes, Oregon State University

“It sounds like a joke, right—a couple of barley breeders in a bar? But we were sitting there saying, ‘Wow, what are the barley varieties contributing to flavor? What’s the new frontier?’”

As Pat Hayes describes it, a certain amount of serendipity helped spark the academic pursuit of barley flavor—and it happened relatively recently, about a decade ago. Hayes, a professor in the department of crop and soil science at Oregon State University, was one of those barley breeders and plant scientists from a handful of universities enjoying a few beers after a professional meeting.

They’ve made considerable progress since then, moving the field closer to understanding the flavor genes that help determine our sensory perceptions of ales and lagers.

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Author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour, a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Beer, and former editor of BeerAdvocate, Ben Keene has judged beer competitions across the US and has spoken at industry conferences and conventions. He lives in Seattle.