US Barley Production At Historic Lows


He’s not dead yet, but he’s looking a bit peaked.

In 1941, the US entered World War II. The following year, in the United States, 17 million acres were planted to barley. At the time, barley was grown as animal feed and for malting. (Malting is the process of turning barley seed into malted barley. Malted barley is the major ingredient in beer and some distilled beverages.) As today, a tiny amount went to human consumption and industrial uses. And of course, some amount of barley grown every year supplies farmers with seed for the next year. As it turns out, after years of increases in barley acreage since the mid 1800s, 1942 was the peak of barley production in the US. 

After 1942, production bounced around before landing at around 8 million acres planted in 1987. From there, the numbers began to slide consistently, with barley acreage losing over 300,000 acres per year. (Numbers from the Nation Barley Growers Association.) Last year, only 2 million acres of barley were planted in the US. In addition, barley stocks — stored grain held in reserve — were at or near historic lows.

Acreage in Montana and Idaho, two major barley growing states, has seen only modest declines in the past two decades. In contrast, Minnesota and North Dakota have seen production fall sharply. The number of bushels produced Minnesota fell by roughly half from 1991 to 2000, then stabilized. From 1991 to 2011, barley production in North Dakota — until recently the top barley-growing state — fell from more than 135 million bushels per year to less than 20 million.

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Making Malty Beers (I: The Malts)


Light Munich malt.

My introduction to craft beers came in the early ‘90s in Boston, Massachusetts. I was a graduate student at Boston University. For a few years I lived near the Sunset Grill, a beer bar with literally hundreds of types of beer in bottles and a huge tap list. I used to go there as often as I could and try different beers. With so many beers that were new, I always ordered something different each time.

One night, I ordered a beer called Hexenbräu — a dark lager that was a total malt bomb. It had a rich, malty flavor — accentuated by some sweetness — and I resolved that next time I went to Sunset, I was going to break my “rule” and order that beer again because it was so damn good. Unfortunately, the next time I went, it wasn’t on the menu and I never saw if it offered anywhere again. I’ve later learned that it was brewed by Hürlimann, the same brewery that originally brewed Samichlaus, and it is no longer produced.

One of my first goals as a homebrewer was to recreate this beer, but I didn’t know where to start. When I tried to make a malty beer, it would turn out decent — but without the big malt character found in that beer (or a good German doppelbock). It was only recently that I figured out how to get the type of malt character.

In this article, I’ll explain how to brew a malty beer. This will include beers with a moderate malt intensity through total malt bombs. Whether you want to brew an intensely malty beer, or simply to accentuate the malt character in one of your existing brews, the information here should allow you to do that.

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