As harvest begins, the goal is always to get the crop off in the condition that maximizes its value to buyers.
In the case of malt barley, there’s a list of specs that maltsters are looking at, starting with protein level and kernel plumpness, explains Kevin Sich, supply chain director for Rahr Malting at Alix, Alberta.
The first step to meeting malt standard is choosing the right variety, he notes.
“So after we have the right variety we are going to start looking at protein. The main thing is that we want less protein in malt barley, because less protein means more starch, than say a bread, where you want more protein because a baker wants his crust to rise nicely. We don’t want to see that in malt barley. More starch means more extract, which means more alcohol, which means it’s more economical for a brewer,” he explains in this video, filmed at Making the Grade in Olds, Alberta last week.
Ideally, protein for malt will be under 11.5 percent.
“So if it gets below that, then we’re going to start looking at chitted — that’s pre germination of the kernel, we’re gonna pearl it, we’re gonna start looking for heated, we’re gonna start looking for stained, and mildew,” he explains. “A lot of the mildew stains will come on in say a tough harvest year where the barley has been weathered in the field. It starts to become a step process. You start getting past the first couple and then you start making your way down to see if it will work or not.”
Sich notes two-row varieties that are common today are quite susceptible to early germination in the field, so sprouting or chitting are fairly common downgrading factors.
After harvest, the temperature at which its stored will also impact whether it qualifies for malt.
“We’re doing some testing and the cooler you can get your grain, the more the germination will last. You can take your barley off at 13 per cent moisture and put it in the bin at 30, and chances are you can loose your germ in up to a month with that because it’s too hot. The enzymes in the barley kernel are working. We’ve seen barley taken off at around 15 or 15.5, cooled down fast, and a year later the germ is still good. So there’s definitely a correlation, definitely moisture is a correlation – but temperature is also a big one. ”
Sich notes they will make adjustments from one year to the next on what quality of barley they are taking in for malt, depending on the type of growing and harvest conditions farmers have had that year.
To learn more about malt barley and the selection process, check out this video filmed at Making the Grade in Olds, Alberta: