My AdvancingAg Journey

As part of my AdvancingAg journey I recently headed to Fargo, ND at the recommendation of my mentor, Chris Spasoff, to attend the NDSU Barley and Malting Quality Course. The focus of this short course was “A Field to Brewhouse Perspective.” Hosted by the Northern Crops Institute on the grounds of the beautiful North Dakota State University campus, the course drew students from varying backgrounds in the industry including farmers, agronomists, maltsters, distillers, brewers and more!

The first day we dove right in with Grains 101 led by Dr. Paul Schwarz of NDSU. He discussed the history of barley and its role in the shift of nomadic Neolithic humans to an agricultural existence. We were also briefed on the current state of barley production in the USA. Barley acres have decreased dramatically in the USA in the past three decades, but luckily for me as a brewer the majority of that decline is in feed barley vs. malting grade barley. This is due to the growth of maize for feed, which has markedly increased in popularity. Over the course of the day we also learned about the growth and development of barley from Dr. Jochum Wiersma of the University of Minnesota and the selection of adapted malting varieties from Dr. Rich Horsley of NDSU. Dr. Horsley opened my eyes to the use of winter nurseries in New Zealand, Puerto Rico or Arizona to “speed up” the breeding of a new barley varietal, but it still takes 10-12 years of research and development to bring a variety to market.

Left: Observing barley in Day 1 germination Right: Observing Hard Red Spring wheat and rye in Day 1 germination

Day two’s focus was all about malting, from technology to food safety considerations and engineering, all led by talented professionals from Rahr Malting, Intelligent Malt and Riverbend Malt House. In a breakout session, we were able to view and handle various malt samples in Day 1 germination from the NCI labs. On the third day we discussed barley and malt quality specification with Dr. Xiang Yin of Rahr Malting and viewed a friabilimeter demonstration to reiterate Dr. Yin’s presentation. In the afternoon we visited Busch Agricultural Resources to see a malt house in operation. The tour really reinforced several of the key learnings of the course and the head maltster was very generous in answering questions of the group.

Left: Friabilimeter demonstration showing barley in Day 2, 3 and 4 germination

Right: Learning the hot steep method for assessing malt flavor

My favourite presentation was a tie between Cassie Poirier of Briess Malt and Ingredients and Dr. Frayne Olson of NDSU. Cassie’s discussion was all about specialty malts and how they can enhance the complexity a brewer’s recipe by contributing colour, flavor, pH adjustment, foam (or lack thereof), and enhanced body. We also got to learn the hot steep method in the lab which is a relatively new way of assessing malt flavor co-created by Cassie herself. Dr. Olson spoke on barley malt economics which, to be honest, I was expecting to be a bit of a snore, but was pleasantly surprised by Dr. Olson’s engaging delivery and easy to understand breakdown of the topic. Perhaps there’s a future for me in agricultural economics if I ever decide brewing is no longer my number 1 passion!

Rows and rows of germinating barley at Busch Agricultural Resources LLC.

Overall, I learned a lot in 3.5 days that I was able to bring back to my work practically and incorporate in to my future AdvancingAg talk. Fargo was a very welcoming city with lots of breweries to explore in our downtime and where else can you see the actual wood chipper used in the movie Fargo!

Dr. Paul Schwarz showing the test brew system at the Northern Crops Institute, NDSU

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Twitter: @AdvancingAg