Barley as the Perfect Beer Ingredient

Barley has several characteristics that elevate above the other cereals for use in making beer. First and foremost is flavor, and a short second is the high level of starch and existence of protein within the grain itself. Another quality that separates barley from other grains is its comparative resistance to mold and fungus at the various stages of the brewing process including shipment and germination. Also barley is a fairly hardy grass that can be grown in a large portion of the world, and can be harvested in the spring, summer, and fall.

Taxonomy and Structure of Barley

Barley is a member of the Poaceae or Gramineae family of grasses and is visibly known for its stems and tillers each of which has a single floret. The stems are hollow, and connect with adventitious roots that can run as deep as 2 meters. The tillers, like the primary stem extends upward into a flowering head. In some varieties all flowers are fertile, while others are not and this helps to distinguish between 2-row and 6-row barley.

Barley Seasonality

Barley is grown in both the winter and spring. For winter barley the seeds are planted in the fall, and exposed to the cold temperatures. This is known as vernalization. This period of cold exposure varies by the strain, but impacts the plants ability to produce in the spring and summer months. Spring barley, on the other hand, does not require vernalization and is planted in the spring.

Growth Stages

A common method, and language for measuring the growth of barley, and many other grains is known as the Zadoks system. This system created by Dutch phytopathologist Jan C. Zodak uses a 2-digit coding system to define the stages of seed and plant growth. There are 9 principal stages including:

  • Germination
  • Seeding Development
  • Tillering
  • Stem Elongation
  • Boot
  • Head Emergence
  • Flowering
  • Milk Development In Kernel
  • Dough Development in Kernel
  • Flowering

Distributed throughout the principle stages are 45 secondary stages, some of which may overlap during the growth of the plant.

Barley Production

Barley is by far the most common cereal for beer making. The Grameme website shows production of barley around the world in 2005. This production not only supports beer making, but also helps to feed the world including livestock.