Even in the hoppiest of brews, the sweetness of the malt serves to balance the bitterness of the hops, creating perfect harmony in the glass.
Most malt in beer is barley malt, Oregon Craft Beer is not most beer, and its brewers aren’t most brewers. Malted wheat, rye and oats can all be found in varieties of Oregon Craft Beers.
For those brewers who do choose malted barley, Oregon’s range of climates, from the lush Willamette Valley to the drier east side, also enable the growing of top quality malting barley.
Barley grains can contain the perfect balance of starch and enzymes and for feeding yeast during fermentation. These components, along with flavor compounds and other nutritional factors, are released during the malting and brewing processes. Intensive selection and plant breeding since the domestication of barley some 10,000 years ago have led to the definition of specific criteria for malting barley. Not every variety meets these criteria. Furthermore, different brewers have different quality specifications. For example, all brewers will agree that the higher malt extract the better, but brewers of American standard lager may want a FAN greater than 200 whereas a craft brewer producing an all-malt pale ale may want a FAN less than 100. There are formal approval processes for malting varieties; in the US, the responsible body is the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA). AMBA approval indicates that a variety, when grown under the right conditions, has a high probability of meeting specific malting criteria. Varieties that are not yet on the AMBA approved list may still produce excellent malt in specific environments, under specific malting conditions, or for special end-uses. However, this potential must be demonstrated on a case-by-case basis. Malting varieties must also meet the demands of farmers in terms of yield and resistance to a range of stresses – including diseases and the challenges of climate change.
Oregon has tremendous potential for producing top quality malting barley in the state’s many diverse environments. From the lush Willamette Valley to the drier east side, properly chosen varieties can produce high yielding, top quality malting barley to supply the state’s burgeoning and creative craft malting, brewing, and distilling industries