Why is barley used in beer?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Das_Reh, Feb 3, 2014.

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  1. Das_Reh

    Das_Reh Initiate (0) Mar 25, 2013 Florida

    I was just curious as to why beer isn't made using other grains? Yes, I know there are adjuncts such as rice and corn, and specialty beers that use a large percentage of wheat and rye but even those use a higher ratio of barley to other cereal grains.

    So, why is barley the main grain used in brewing beer? How would a beer made with 100% rye, wheat or another grain be? Is it simply tradition, or is the make-up of barley essential for creating anything that can really be defined as "beer"?

    (I'm aware there are sorghum beers, but that's only for the unfortunate folks with gluten allergies, so I'm not counting them)
  2. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Initiate (0) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    Because it makes better beer than other grains.
  3. Das_Reh

    Das_Reh Initiate (0) Mar 25, 2013 Florida

    But why, specifically?
  4. marquis

    marquis Pooh-Bah (2,251) Nov 20, 2005 England

    They've all been tried over and over again yet practically everywhere that barley is available it's the grain of choice.
    Many reasons,a main one would be that it malts very easily and well.Wheat is incredibly difficult to malt properly (there are physical reasons for this) Barley has versatility and is cheap and easy to grow.And it tastes pretty good too.
    inchrisin, joelwlcx, Roguer and 2 others like this.
  5. LODGE4

    LODGE4 Initiate (0) Dec 12, 2012 Florida

    Barley is a basic cereal grain not particularly good for milling into flour and making bread or bakery goods. But it is great for beer. There are three major types of barley. These are differentiated by the number of seeds at the top of the stalk. Barley seeds grow in two, four and six rows along the central stem. European brewers traditionally prefer the two-row barley because it malts best and has a higher starch/husk ratio than four or six-row barley. Brewers in the US traditionally prefer six-row barley because it is more economical to grow and has a higher concentration of enzymes needed to convert the starch in the grain into sugar and other fermentables.

    JimKal, Roguer, BrettHead and 4 others like this.
  6. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Grand Pooh-Bah (3,181) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Pooh-Bah Society

    While beer can be made from other grains, barley provides some benefits for beer making.

    Below is an extract from the Oxford Companion to Beer which details some of the benefits:

    “Although other cereal grains may be made into malt, barley really is the pre-eminent cereal for this process. Its husk offers protection against the damage caused by handling the grain, particularly the regular turning to separate the grains during germination. … The husk then acts like a filtration medium in the brewhouse, allowing the brewer to achieve bright worts and have better fermentation conditions and subsequent flavors”.

    To expound upon the above verbiage, malted grains are needed to make beer since during the mash the malted grains enzymatically convert the starches of the grains to sugars (the sugars are then ‘food’ for the brewer’s yeast which ‘turns’ the wort into beer).

    You made specific mention of 100% wheat. While a beer can indeed be produced from 100% malted wheat; there is the risk of a stuck sparge since malted wheat doesn’t have the husk that malted barley has. A brewer can compensate via other means (e.g., adding rice hulls to the mash prior to sparge) but for the case of German wheat beers the brewer typically uses a mix of malted barley and malted wheat (e.g., a 50/50 mix). By brewing with a mix of malted barley and malted wheat the brewer does not need to worry about a stuck sparge.


    P.S. Another benefit of malted barley is that is has a lower protein content as compared to malted wheat. Higher protein content yields a cloudier beer (proteins are part of the haze in a Hefeweizen). In beer, a clear product is generally desired.
  7. jucifer1818

    jucifer1818 Initiate (0) May 15, 2011 Florida

    Barley makes for one of the best brewing grains for many reasons. For one, In its pale form it has a very neutral character, which allows the brewer to have more control over their final product (by adding character with higher modified grains). Barley also has one of the best combinations of enzymes and starch concentrations, which allows for greater utilization and extract. Its husk also makes up the 3ed reason: easy draining. the husk allows for easier draining of the wort from the grain, which in turn also allows for greater sugar utilization (as more wort can be separated from the grain)

    Add all that in with the fact that its easier to malt, and in turn, is substantially cheaper as a base grain than many other kinds of maltable ingredients, and stores well, its no surprise that pale Barley malt (of some kind or breed) makes up the bulk of most beer ingredients.

    Many brewing experts agree that barley malt is essentially the "perfect" base brewing ingredient.

    You "can" make a batch of beer with many, many kinds of properly modified grains and "others" (everything from wheat\Rye to even sunflowers Can make beer), but barley is the best base grain. Unless you have a problem with gluten....in which case your better off with the sunflower malt lol
    PapaGoose03 and DWheeler379 like this.
  8. FarmerTed

    FarmerTed Pundit (904) May 31, 2011 Colorado

    Barley is a shit-ton easier to mash than wheat or rye.
  9. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Pooh-Bah (2,561) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Wheat (usually) and rye are naked grains, no husks, so they will not be easy to sparge and be sticky.

    Wheat and rye can also be malted, and they have plenty of enzymes.
    OneDropSoup likes this.
  10. Das_Reh

    Das_Reh Initiate (0) Mar 25, 2013 Florida

    There are sunflower based beers? I had no idea... can you give me an example?
    kerry4porters likes this.
  11. jucifer1818

    jucifer1818 Initiate (0) May 15, 2011 Florida

    I had heard about it on basic brewing radio, when they interviewed a maltery who said that they had malted many different non-gluten ingredients, including sunflowers, of which they successfully made beer from. I do not think their is ANY commercial brewery examples.
  12. StLeasy

    StLeasy Initiate (0) Sep 8, 2013 Illinois

    IMO rye beers with a very high rye percentage come across as grainy-adjuncty, but in a delicious deep/flavorful way.

    Definitely tangy, but don't go in expecting a citrusy beer.
  13. Dupage25

    Dupage25 Savant (1,020) Jul 4, 2013 Antarctica

    Apart from gluten-free beers, I've wondered for some time if there are any commercial examples of beers with no barley whatsoever. As has been stated already, pretty much no German wheat beers are entirely wheat, and I've never heard of any wheat beers from other countries that are 100% wheat either ("wheatwine" is a bit of a deceptive name for the "style"). In the past I thought that rye beers and "ryewines" are 100% malted rye but apparently I was mistaken. Perhaps old roggenbiers were 100% malted rye? What about that old type of Polish potato beer, was it all potato or were there other grains?
  14. PuFtonLyfe

    PuFtonLyfe Initiate (0) Jun 2, 2011 North Carolina

    Barley has-
    -a particular relationship between protein and starch that gives beer body without being too hazy and protein rich
    -a unique enzyme system, which means enzymes do not need to be added
    -a husk that make lautering and sparging easy
    -the ability to develop infinite flavor combinations via the malting process
    BBThunderbolt likes this.
  15. PuFtonLyfe

    PuFtonLyfe Initiate (0) Jun 2, 2011 North Carolina

    Few craft brewers in the US use 6-row. Large brewers like to use 6-row barley because it contains extra enzymes that they need to be able to turn adjuncts (corn, rice) into fermentable sugars. So, yes, the big guys in the US do use 6-row, but most craft breweries are mashing with 2-row.
    dar482 and BrettHead like this.
  16. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Pooh-Bah (2,561) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    One can make a beer from 100% wheat malt. That will convert with the enzymes in wheat malt. Rice hulls will aid lautering. There are crystal wheat, and roasted wheat malts available too.

    I made a Grodsizkie beer with 100% smoke wheat malt!some rice hulls, and with time it dropped bright.

    Just saying that there are some things going for wheat and rye.
    BrettHead and PuFtonLyfe like this.
  17. PuFtonLyfe

    PuFtonLyfe Initiate (0) Jun 2, 2011 North Carolina

    Nice! Have always wondered how an all wheat or all rye beer would turn out, but have been too worried about a stuck runoff.
  18. Crusader

    Crusader Pooh-Bah (1,589) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    It's worth mentioning that 6-row barley isn't an American grain originally, and that Swedish brewers were using domestic 6-row barley up until the late 1800s when British 2-row breeds were introduced (predominantly of the Chevallier type). So if "tradition" is desired, 6-row is just as traditional as 2-row, although you might have to refer to it being in "the Swedish tradition" as opposed to the German or British one :stuck_out_tongue:.
  19. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Pooh-Bah (2,561) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Can you give me any references to how much 6 row is used by the BMC's?

    NA 2 row has very high values of DP now, 160 Lintner 2row vs 180 Lintner for 6 row. It is to the point that it does not make much difference.
    inchrisin likes this.
  20. BrettHead

    BrettHead Initiate (0) Sep 18, 2010 Nebraska

    IIRC it also makes worse bread than other grains

    edit: I see I have been beaten to the punch on that info :grinning:
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