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Terroir by the Ton: Regionally Adapted Malt Has a Future

Efficiency and the needs of industry have dominated North American barley growing, limiting what’s grown and where. However, independent brewers seeking locally grown options are spurring the development of new, distinctive varieties in unusual places.

Ben Keene Sep 13, 2021 - 14 min read

Terroir by the Ton: Regionally Adapted Malt Has a Future Primary Image

At Wheatland Spring Farm + Brewery in Waterford, Virginia, a field of barley is destined to be malted at Murphy & Rude in Charlottesville. Photo: Courtesy Wheatland Spring.

Today, the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA) recommends 33 different varieties of two-row barley and seven varieties of six-row. Essentially, if a variety makes it on AMBA’s annual list, barley farmers can be confident that they’ll find a buyer.

Sometimes, however, buyers—that is to say, maltsters—are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and deepen local connections. Directly or indirectly, this is in response to demand from brewers (and, most likely, drinkers). A small but significant shift in the field of plant breeding and genetics could signal one direction the brewing industry is heading next.

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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.