Barley is one of the most common grains in the world. Its’ cultivation has been the driving force behind early settlements of ancient societies. Besides bread and feed for livestock, barley is a critical component in making beer and to be labeled ‘Beer’, beverages must be fermented with a sugar content that is no less than 50% from barley malt
There are two main forms of barley used in brewing. Two-Row and Six-Row are defined by the way they visibly grow on the stalk. However, the performance of these two grains differ widely with regards to making beer and any good homebrew store will carry over 20 different variations of these grains.
Six-Row contains less starch then Two-Row, making it difficult to modify for taste, color and flavor character. Therefore, 6-Row is used strictly to make alcohol. It even carries a high concentration of enzymes that help other grains convert to alcohol producing sugars. Less taste but good for adjunct grains meaning Bud, Miller and Coors use a lot of 6-Row to make their corn and rice beers.
Two-Row malt is fuller flavored and stronger bodied then Six-Row. Craft breweries take pride in making their beers with Two-Row malt. These grains can be cooked, kilned and roasted to provide terrific flavors and body, leading to the premium products we love today. Two-Row does not have high enzyme counts, so it fails to help corn and rice convert but, not a concern for the Craft-beer industry as ‘who needs more Bud.’
A small percent of grains called specialty malts are added to the mash to create additional character. The most common of these specialty malts are Crystal malt, which adds caramel sweetness and body. Roasted grains add color along with a distinct mocha and chocolate taste. Think stout or porter when using roasted barley. Many additional flavors are achieved by the inclusion of other specialty grains like honey, nutty, biscuit, tangy and sweet. Competent brewers will use a blend of these grains to achieve well balance and flavorful results.
To make the pre-fermented beer, brewers soak these grain blends in water at a desired temperature between 144 and 158 degrees or about an hour. Natural enzymes change malted grains into a liquid sugar that will eventually be consumed by yeast to create the flavorful beer. Homebrews can rely on a proven recipe or create their own blends for a very personalized result. Only the proper blend of malted barley will become a winning brew and separate the consumer from their money.