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Malt Insider: Ancient Grains in Modern Beers

Going beyond barley into ancient grains can be a way to form stronger connections with local farmers, promote sustainable agriculture, and produce more distinctive beers.

Don Tse Mar 18, 2024 - 12 min read

Malt Insider: Ancient Grains in Modern Beers Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves/

When bakers or food companies talk about “ancient grains,” it doesn’t mean they’re making bread with cereals that have been sitting around in amphorae for thousands of years. Instead, they’re selling something made with grains that have a much older lineage than modern barley or wheat.

There’s no official definition, but the usual explanation is that ancient grains come from seedstock that hasn’t been hybridized, genetically modified, or subject to quite as much selective breeding over the past few thousand years. They include buckwheat, einkorn, emmer, millet, and spelt, among others. While their health benefits over modern grains are debatable, what’s not in dispute is that ancient grains can add their own desirable flavors and textures.

After all, what works for bread can work for beer.

Brewers who make low-gluten or gluten-free beers have gotten to know some of these grains in recent years, but their potential goes well beyond that niche. They also offer an opportunity to connect with local farmers, highlight sustainable practices, and bring some rustic character to farmhouse-inspired beers.

Here, we talk to brewers who have had success in brewing and selling beers that give pride of place to ancient grains.

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Don Tse is an internationally recognized beer writer and beer judge, working from his home base in the middle of North America’s barley belt.