A Comparison of North American Two-Row and Six-Row Malting Barley


Ever since its introduction to North America in the 17th century, barley has taken on a life of its own.

by Paul Schwarz and Richard Horsley (Brewing Techniques - Vol. 4, No.6)

Both two-row and six-row North American malted barley are rather different from their European cousins and have developed distinctive new characteristics. Genetics, climate, and breeding practices have produced a rich variety of malt qualities from which to choose.

A brewer’s preference for two- or six-row barley can be born of a number of factors, including barley and malt purchase prices, quality specifications, and brewing traditions. Quality of product is in turn affected by genetic makeup, environmental conditions, and the practices of the grower and the maltster.

It is widely believed that two-row barleys are the best barleys for malting and brewing (1). In fact, outside North America most of the world’s brewing nations exclusively use two-row barley for malt. Six-row barleys, if produced overseas at all, are largely used only for feed.

The situation in North America, however, is rather different and warrants closer examination. Modern American brewing practices have relied on six-row barleys, partly because they were better adapted to many regions. In addition, barley breeding efforts over the past 50 years have reduced, if not obscured, some of the differences between two- and six-row barleys and malts. Yet important distinctions remain in terms of kernel size, extract, protein, and enzyme levels.

The historical preference for two-row barley is based on the fact that two-row barley yields malts with 1–2% greater theoretical extract, meaning that brewers can brew more beer. Largescale brewers, however, must balance the higher extract yield against the higher cost and lower diastatic power of two-row malt. Small-scale brewers with less focus on extract yield may find the differences between the two negligible.

This article delineates some of the principal differences between North American six- and two-row malts in the context of historical developments and current production.

The Historical Development of Malting Barley Production

Overview: Cultivated barley (Hordeum vulgare) is not native to North America. English, Dutch, and French traders introduced barley to the eastern seaboard during the early years of European settlement (2,3). The Spanish introduced it to Mexico and the American Southwest. The imported English two-row barley enjoyed adequate growing conditions on the coast, but as production spread into western New York, six-row barley production dominated because of the climate. The increasing demand fot beer in new midwestern and western cities continued to draw barley producers further west, luring them to agricultural lands more favorable to cereal grain crops. Improvements in the transportation system also helped make this westward shift possible.

North American production trends: United States. As of the mid- to late 1800s, U.S. barley production centered in the area now referred to as the Corn Belt (Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and southern Wisconsin). Disease and competition from corn and soybean crops, however, led to the eventual decline of barley in this region, and U.S. production shifted elsewhere. Today, North Dakota and Minnesota produce the majority of the six-row malting barley in the United States, with lesser amounts produced in South Dakota and Idaho. Two-row barley production predominates in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, and Wyoming. Both climatic and qualitative differences contribute to the split.

Malting Barley Production in North America

In 1994, growers in the United States produced 375 million bushels of barley. Approximately 50% of production consists of six-row malting types, 12% is two-row malting barley, and the remainder is feed. North Dakota is the largest producer of barley, followed by Montana, Idaho, Minnesota, Washington, and South Dakota, respectively (see map). The United States leads the world in beer production, and most malting barley produced is consumed by the domestic brewing industry. As a consequence, the United States exports little malting barley or malt.

Canada is a major producer of malting barley. With over 9 million acres devoted to barley (30% more than the United States), Canada produced over 536 million bushels in 1994. In contrast with the United States, approximately 50% of total Canadian production is two-row malting barleys, while six-row malting types account for 20%, marking a shift over the past 10 to 15 years from predominantly six-row to two-row malting barleys; the rest is feed. A major reason for this shift is that barley production in Canada greatly exceeds domestic use, resulting in an increased emphasis upon the export of barley and malt — and two-row is the preferred choice around the world. Typically, over 20% of the Canadian crop is exported annually. The United States and China are major customers.

Mexico ranks in the top 10 beer-producing nations, and the national per capita consumption of beer is increasing; however, the domestic supply of malting barley has declined in recent years. Mexico now imports significant amounts of malt and barley from the United States.


Table I: Relative Production, Two-Row vs. Six-Row*


Grain Yield (bushels/acre)

Test Weight (lb/bushel)

Kernel Plumpness (%)†

Western-grown two-row, irrigated




Western-grown two-row, dryland




Midwestern-grown six-row, dryland




*Typical grain quality parameters for barley produced in the U.S. (Optimal values.)

†Percent retained on a 2.4 x 19.0 mm slotted sieve.

Canada. Canada is now a world leader in malting barley cultivation. Production has gradually shifted from the East to the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and, to a lesser extent, Manitoba. All three provinces grow both two-row and six-row malting barley cultivars, but two-row production dominates Canadian crops.

Mexico. Malting barley production in Mexico is almost exclusively six-row. Most production occurs in the central states, which are generally in close proximity to malt houses.

The box “Malting Barley Production in North America” presents more detailed information on barley production in each country.

Irrigated vs. Dryland Production and Grain Yields

All two- and six-row malting barley varieties produced in Canada and the United States are spring types (Europe grows both spring and winter malting barleys). Seeding takes place in the spring, and harvest occurs from late summer to early fall. Grain yield and hence malt quality are influenced by many factors from seeding through harvest, including variety seeded, environment, diseases and pests, soil fertility, and the agronomic practices of the grower (see Table I).

Irrigation boosts yields in the western United States: The two-row varieties grown in the western United States realize the greatest yield potential, test weight, and kernel plumpness relative to all other barley produced in North America. This advantage comes largely because western barley is more likely to be irrigated by farmers growing under a contract with a maltster. Maltsters pay a premium as an incentive for farmers to grow high-quality malting barley cultivars rather than the better-yielding feed barley. The farmers can thus afford the costly irrigation. Barley not grown under contract is often grown under dryland conditions that limit the plant’s growth potential. High daytime temperatures and/or lack of timely rains during critical periods of crop growth limit the grain yield and kernel plumpness. Irrigation helps mitigate the effects of adverse environmental conditions that can reduce the quality of the grain, thus ensuring a consistent supply of quality two-row malting barley.

Table II: Comparative Analytical Data*




Extract (% dry basis)



Total protein (% dry basis)



Soluble protein (% of the malt, dry basis)



Soluble total protein (%)



Diastatic power (°Lintner)



α-amylase (dextrinizing units)



Wort viscosity (cP)



Wort β-glucan (ppm)



Wort color (SRM)



*Typical two- and six-row malt quality parameters for barley produced in the United States. Malt quality data represent approximate averages. It must be remembered that considerable variation due to changes in growing conditions, barley quality, or malt processing can occur, even within the same cultivar. Malt quality data are based on the methodology of the American Society of Brewing Chemists.

Barley in dryland conditions: Six-row barley yields in the American Midwest are comparable to dryland yields of two-row barley in the West for many of the same reasons stated above (climate, irrigation). When westetn or European two-row cultivars are grown in the Midwest, they generally yield less and have fewer plump kernels than adapted six-row varieties. This is because the western two-row varieties were developed for areas that may get hot during the day, but that have cool nighttime temperatures that allow the plants to “recover”; the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures is not as great in the Midwest as it is in the West. The cultivar Triumph developed in Germany, for example, has been successfully produced in the American West.

Disease pressure in the Midwest also limits the yield of many two-row cultivars. On the other hand, midwestern six-row cultivars (with a wider range of adaptation) transplanted to the West have yields comparable to two-row varieties. Consequently, some midwestern varieties are grown under contract in the western United States; the contracting of barley in the Midwest, however, is limited.

The Anatomy of a Barley Spike

The floral structure of the barley plant is the spike, or, as it is sometimes referred to, the head or ear (4). The spike rests at the tip of each stem, also known as a tiller. Several quality variations between six-and two-row barley are directly attributable to spike morphology, so an understanding of the differences is meaningful.

The central axis of the spike is known as the rachis. The rachis is composed of nodes and internodes, with spikelets that can later develop into kernels attached at the rachis nodes. A barley spikelet comprises an individual floret with surrounding bracts. The barley floret is “perfect,” meaning that it contains both male (stamen) and female (pistil) floral components; barley is self-pollinating. Following pollination, the fertilized ovary develops into the embryo (germ) and endosperm of the kernel, while the bracts form the husk of the mature kernel.

In both two- and six-row barley, each individual node of the rachis has three spikelets, but the fertility (or sterility) of the florets differs in each type. In six-row barley, all three spikelets (per rachis node) contain a fertile floret. These florets develop into kernels and thus each rachis node in the mature spike of six-row barley has three kernels. When the rachis is viewed from one side, there appears to be three rows of kernels. Kernels occur at nodes on both sides of the zigzag rachis, however, so it looks like six rows. This is perhaps most easily seen when viewed downward from the top of the spike. In two-row barley, only the central floret is fertile and will develop into a kernel; the lateral spikelets are sterile, leaving alternating single kernels on opposite sides of the rachis, for a total of two rows. Barley has multiple stems (tillers) per plant, with many of the stems producing spikes. Two-row barley plants generally have more spikes per plant, but the number of tillers is greatly influenced by environmental conditions.

An additional characteristic used to distinguish malting barley types is the color of the aleurone (3). The aleurone layer is directly under the husk tissues and largely surrounds the endosperm. It is of extreme importance in malting because it is a major site of enzyme synthesis (5). When certain phenolic pigments are present in the aleurone, they may give the dehusked (pearled) grain a black, violet, purple, blue, or green appearance. It should be noted that these aleurone pigments do not have an easily identified contribution to beer color, but are thought to impact flavor. But again, this impact is not easily quantified.

Absence of pigment results in a white aleurone. Blue aleurone color, which is controlled by a single gene, was once quite common in North American six-row cultivars. In the Canadian grain trade, the blue aleurone trait was once used as a marker to distinguish six-row malting cultivars (blue) from six-row feed cultivars. For the most part, blue aleurone barleys have fallen out of favor with North American brewers, and little blue aleurone is currently produced. All North American two-row barley cultivars have white aleurone.

Canadian barley is grown almost exclusively under dryland conditions, but these conditions are not necessarily equivalent to those of the American Midwest; growing conditions (rainfall, length of season, temperature, and so forth) vary between, and even within, provinces, allowing the growth of both two- and six-row barley. Western Canadian yields are, on average, lower than those for irrigated western U.S. barley.

Only a small amount of Mexican barley is irrigated.

Factors Affecting Barley Quality

Although breeding programs have minimized the differences between two- and six-row barley, differences remain in terms of kernel size/uniformity, grain protein content, and malt enzyme levels (3). Kernel size and protein directly influence the manner in which six- and two-row barleys are malted by affecting the rate of water uptake, germination, and modification (see Tables I and II).

Kernel size and uniformity: The central kernel of six-row barleys is symmetrical, but the two lateral kernels are slightly twisted and also tend to be slightly shorter and thinner (6). Two-row barley kernels, by contrast, tend to be symmetrical in shape, more uniform in size, and plumper because only one kernel/rachis node develops (see box, “The Anatomy of a Barley Plant”). Because of the irregularities in kernel size, maltsters often separate each lot of six-row barley into several kernel size fractions for more uniform germination and modification. Plumper fractions are reblended upon completion of malting and used as brewer’s malt. The thinner malt kernels may be sold as distiller’s malt, where it is preferred for its high enzymatic activity. The thinnest barley kernels are removed and sold as feed. Two-row barleys often don’t require such extra handling because their kernel size is more uniform.

A major advance came in 1961 with the release of the six-row cultivar Larker (7). Larker significantly reduced the size differential between large kernels in six- and two-row cultivars. The name Larker, in fact, was coined from the words “large kernels.” Although this variety is no longer used for malting (having been replaced by newer, improved cultivars), kernel plumpness in six-row cultivars released since that time has generally continued to increase. Nevertheless, the plumpness of two-row cultivars still tends to be greater, particularly when grown under irrigation in adapted environments.

Barley Breeding Programs and Their Innovations

Breeding programs in Canada and the United States have been developing adapted barley cultivars since the early to middle part of this century (3). All modern midwestern six-row malting barley cultivars can trace their ancestry to barley from northern China (Manchurian types). Manchurian-type barleys gained favor in the northern Great Plains because they suited the regional growing conditions. Two-row malting barleys grown in the West were developed from materials of European origin, where temperatures are somewhat similar to those in the western United States.

The malting and brewing industries take an active role in the development of new malting cultivars in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The industry offers financial support of breeding programs and research as well as pilot- and plant-scale testing of promising new lines. The industry or their representatives generally make recommendations as to which new cultivars are of acceptable quality for malting and brewing. Several large brewing companies have their own barley breeding programs, but for the most part barley cultivar development takes place at federal- or state-supported institutions. Past goals have focused on domestic markets, but some interest has recently been focused on the development of “export-type” malting barleys and the incorporation of “European” malt quality. Breeding is an ongoing process which requires 8–12 years from the first “cross” to the time of “release.”

Selected cultivars tend to dominate a given region for a few years. After this time they are usually replaced by cultivars with improved quality, higher grain yield, or better resistance to the latest plant disease or pest. Brewers specifications may also change overtime.

The following summaries present current six- and two-row malting barley cultivars in alphabetical order, not in order of recency or volume produced.

Six-Row Cultivars

Azure, released by North Dakota State University in 1982, is the only blue aleurone cultivar recommended for malting in the United States. Many brewers no longer use blue aleurone barleys, and only limited amounts are still produced in North Dakota.

Bonanza, a blue aleurone barley, was released by Agriculture Canada in 1970. It was also produced at one time in the upper Midwestern United States as well as in Canada. Limited acreage remains in the prairie provinces.

Esmeralda, released in 1992 by a national barley improvement program in Mexico, is currently the most common malting cultivar in Mexico. Though Esmeralda’s malt quality is somewhat lower than previous Mexican cultivars, it is tolerant of the disease stripe rust, which destroyed Mexican barley production in the 1980s.

Excel was released by the University of Minnesota in 1990. It has a very high yield potential, but has not gained favor with growers because its kernel plumpness often suffers under environmental stress.

Foster, released by North Dakota State University in 1995, is the most recent barley recommended for malting and brewing in the United States. Foster’s genetic make-up may reduce grain protein levels 1.5% below those of the popular Robust. Foster was named for a former barley breeder at North Dakota State University.

Morex, named for its high extract levels (“more-extract”), was released by the University of Minnesota in 1978. Although Morex’s agronomic quality is somewhat below that of other six-row cultivars, it remains the industry standard in terms of malt quality. Small amounts of Morex are still produced in the Midwestern states and in Idaho.

Robust, released by the University of Minnesota in 1983, is currently the most widely produced six-row malting cultivar. Robust yields better and has greater straw strength and plumper kernels, but lower levels of α-amylase than Morex, from which it was derived.

Stander is a high-yielding cultivar released by the University of Minnesota in 1993 and recommended for malting in 1995. The name Stander is derived from its improved straw-strength (it “stands”). Higher levels of wort-soluble nitrogen and α-amylase are characteristic of this breed. It is the second most widely produced six-row malting cultivar in the Midwest.

Two-Row Cultivars

B1202 was developed by the barley breeding program of Busch Agricultural Resources, Inc. It is largely produced in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Crest was released by Washington State University in 1992. It is primarily grown for export, and small amounts have been produced in Washington.

Crystal was jointly released by the USDA–ARS and the Idaho Experiment Station in 1989. It is very similar in malt quality to Klages and has shown some resistance to bacterial seed blight, which can be a problem in some irrigated areas. It is primarily produced in Idaho.

Galena (not to be confused with the hop of the same name!) was developed by the barley breeding program of the Coors Brewing Company and was made available to growers in 1991. It was originally intended to replace the German Triumph, but has also replaced some acreage of Moravian III. Idaho and Wyoming produce significant amounts of Galena.

Harrington is the most widely produced two-row malting barley cultivar in North America. It was released by the University of Saskatchewan in 1981 and is characterized by higher levels of enzymatic activity than the previous two-row standard, Klages. Harrington often has poor hull adherence.

Klages was the industry two-row standard before the predominance of Harrington. Very small amounts of Klages continue to be produced, but generally under contract. It was released in 1972 by the USDA–ARS and the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station.

Manley received registration as a commercial cultivar in Canada in 1990. It is considered to have better agronomic performance, disease resistance, and hull adherence than Harrington and may serve as its eventual replacement. Significant amounts of Manley are produced in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Moravian III was released by the barley breeding program of the Coors Brewing Company and has been the predominant barley used by the company in recent years. Moravian III was derived from a cross of Moravian and other European cultivars. The original Moravian was brought to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1949. Most acreage of Moravian III is in Colorado and Wyoming.

Moravian 14, developed by the barley breeding program of the Coors Brewing Company, was first made available to growers in 1995. It matures earlier than Moravian III, and is thus better suited to some production areas of Colorado.

Oxbow is a new variety developed in Canada that combines Harrington and Manley characteristics.

Kernel plumpness serves as a moderate indicator of malt extract yield (3). Plumper kernels are thought to have a higher starch content, which is the principal contributor to extract. Before the breeding breakthroughs of the 1970s, the extract from six-row malts was as much as 4% below those of two-row malts. The release of the cultivar Morex (so-named because it has “more extract”) in 1978 marked a trend toward higher extract levels for six-row barley (7). Currently, six-row malts are only 1–2% lower.

Protein levels: Another important distinction between six-and two-row barley cultivars is in the average level of grain protein (3). A high protein level often indicates a thinner kernel with less starch available for conversion to malt extract. Acceptable six-row malting barleys may range from 12 to 13.5% protein, whereas two-row cultivars range from 11 to 13%; barleys with greater than 13.5% protein are rarely used for malt. The high temperatures and moisture stress frequently encountered in dryland conditions (under which most six-row barley is grown) can limit the amount of grain fill (starch synthesis) and thus result in higher protein contents.

The protein content differential is also related to genetic differences in how each cultivar accumulates protein during grain development. Total protein content is defined as nitrogen content x 6.25. Because the net loss of nitrogen during malting is minimal, the total protein content does not change greatly in the process. Much of the barley protein, however, is converted into a soluble form by proteolytic enzymes; a portion of this is further broken down into amino acids and peptides in the wort.

Six-row malts tend to yield higher levels of wort-soluble protein. The ratio of soluble protein to total protein is an indication of the extent of protein breakdown (modification) during malting: 40–45% is considered acceptable.

Higher protein malting barleys are generally believed to inversely reduce the level of malt extract in the kernel. In addition, high protein content can lengthen steeping time, cause erratic germination (especially if grain traders blend low- and high-protein barleys to meet protein limits), increase malting losses, and increase enzymatic activity and, ultimately, the level of dimethyl sulfide. High soluble protein levels can sometimes result in brewing or beer-quality problems.

Malt modification time: While most six-row barley cultivars require four-and-a-half to five days of germination to achieve proper malt modification, traditional North American two-row cultivars generally require an additional one to two days of germination time (3). Harrington, however, a two-row cultivar released in 1981, modifies in only four days. Because Harrington is currently the predominant two-row cultivar in North America, particularly in Canada, it can safely be stated that modern two-row barleys generally require less malting time than six-row barleys — a testimony to the success of modern breeding programs. This advantage represents a major economic consideration for maltsters. This change of tendency for two-row cultivars has represented a major advancement achieved through barley breeding.

Malt enzymes: Six-row malts traditionally (that is, before recent breeding advances) yielded higher levels of the desirable starch-degrading enzymes α-amylases and greater diastatic power (DP). α-amylases are the enzymes that convert starch to dextrins, reduce mash or cooker viscosity, and increase the susceptibility of starch to β-amylase attack (5,9). DP is a measure of the activity of the malt enzymes that break down complex carbohydrates into reducing sugars (principally β-amylase, the key saccharifying enzymes responsible for converting starch to fermentable maltose and for further breaking down large dextrins). The modern two-row cultivar Harrington, however, has levels of α-amylases equal to or slightly greater than those of current six-row malting cultivars. Despite the recent advances in favor of more α-amylases, two-row malts continue to have considerably lower levels of DP — a potentially limiting factor in some applications, such as when high levels of unmalted grains are used as adjuncts.

Factors Influencing the Price of Malting Barley

Pricing of malting barley and malt in North America is relatively complex, and a detailed discussion is well beyond the intent of this article. Several generalizations can be made, however (8). One of the major factors influencing malt price is the price paid for malting barley which is largely determined by supply and demand and can vary from year to year. Supply is influenced by production, existing barley stocks, and imports, while demand is a function of usage patterns (malt/feed/seed), export, and carryover barley stocks. The cost of transportation from production regions to the malthouse will also significantly affect the malt price, as will the quantity purchased.

Barley prices directly affect malt prices, and increases in barley prices are fairly immediately translated to increases in malt prices. Many brewers contract with a maltster for as many as 12 months, which can serve to insulate the brewer from malt price increases in the short term.

The price for feed barley is almost always lower than the price for malting barley. Feed barleys are either cultivars that were specifically developed and released for feed use or malting barley cultivars that were not purchased for malting because of poor quality or an overabundant supply.

Barley prices in Canada are determined by many factors and are set by the Canadian Wheat Board, which controls domestic and export distribution of malting (but not feed) barley. The following discussion pertains to prices in the United States.

In the midwestern United States, the majority of barley acreage is seeded to six-row malting cultivars, and barley production often exceeds the demand for malt. Barley is purchased on the cash market, and maltsters and brewers are typically able to select the best quality, for which they pay a premium relative to the feed barley price. When the supply of acceptable malting barley is significantly reduced because of such factors as the environment or disease, changes in price can be anticipated. Fusarium head blight, a fungal disease, has adversely affected barley production in the upper mid-western United States since 1993. When it struck, six-row malting barley prices* rose from $ 2.18/bu (September 1993) to $ 4.00/bu (January 1996); prices averaged $ 2.97/bu during this time. Malt prices also eventually rose as a result.

In the western United States, much of the malting barley acreage is grown under contract; contracts between the farmer and maltster help to ensure an adequate supply of desired malting barley cultivars. Farmers generally command higher prices than those found on the cash grain market as an incentive to grow malting barley over the better-yielding feed barley, but maltsters usually find the higher price an acceptable trade-off for a secure supply of high-quality barley.

Prices for two-row malting barley are not published, other than by state agencies. As an example, Montana two-row barley prices have averaged $ 2.70/bu in the past three years (September 1993 through January 1996). In typical years, when the supply of quality midwestern six-row barley is in abundance, the price for two-row barley and malt has generally been much higher than corresponding six-row prices.

There is little interplay between western and midwestern markets. Demand among the major brewers for six- or two-row malt fluctuates little.

*Data provided as reported by the Minneapolis grain exchange, the only “cash” grain market for malting barley.

β-glucans. The β-glucan content of most barley cultivars falls between 4 and 7% of the total grain weight (10). In general, the β-glucan content of six-row barleys is slightly lower than that of two-row barleys. β-glucans are usually extensively degraded by malt β-glucanase enzymes during germination, meaning that little will be extracted into wort. Undegraded β-glucans contribute to viscosity and can cause wort separation and beer filtration problems (11). Both two- and six-row North American malts tend to be well modified; β-glucan–related problems are not often encountered but are more likely when undermodified malt or high levels of umalted barley are used.

Husk content: Husk content provides one other difference between two- and six-row barley. A thin, tightly adhering husk is desirable in all malting cultivars because the husk protects the germinating grain during malting and plays an important role in lautering. Six-row barleys are generally believed to have a higher husk content because they tend toward thinner kernels, but husk content varies with growth environment (12). High husk content barley can mean more phenolics end up in the wort, thereby contributing an astringent flavor to beer. Oxidizable polyphenolic substances react with proteins and may contribute to haze formation (9). Care must be taken in the brewing process to avoid extraction of these compounds from the husk and to promote their precipitation in the wort (the hot break).

Implications for Brewing Practice

Protein and DP: In terms of brewing performance, the most apparent differences between two-and six-row malts relate to their levels of grain protein and diastatic power. The higher protein and enzyme levels of adapted six-row cultivars allow for the widespread use of cereal adjuncts in major North American breweries and the double-mash* system for precooking them (6).

Uniformity and size: The more uniform kernel size distribution of two-row malt helps brewers, at least those using two-roller mills, obtain a proper grind at the beginning of the brewing process (13). Kernel size differences, however, are likely to be less significant when using more sophisticated six-roller mills with screening systems, such as those used by the major breweries. In terms of the type of wort separation method used, a larger grist particle size distribution is extremely important in lautering, and virtually unimportant with the modern mash filters used by some large-scale brewers. Mash filters are able to handle smaller particles because they use filter cloth, a lower bed depth, and higher pressures.

*The double mash system is used with rice or corn grits. A portion of the malt bill can be replaced (usually no more than 40%) with rice or corn. The rice or corn grits are first “cooked” with a small portion of the malt in a separate vessel known as a cereal cooker. Most of the malt will be mashed in the main mash vessel. As the temperature rises in the cereal cooker, the adjunct starch is gelatinized, which makes it susceptible to enzymatic hydrolysis by the amylases contained in the malt. Eventually, the cooker temperature will reach boiling, after which the cereal mash is ttansferred to the main mash tun. This transfer usually occurs at the end of the main mash protein rest and raises the main mash temperature to saccharification temperature.

Extract yield: Two-row barley yields malts with 1–2% greater theoretical extract (14). Extract is a major economic concern for many large-scale brewers because the amount of brewhouse extract obtained determines the amount of beer that can be produced from a given amount of malt. Small-scale brewers, however, are generally less concerned about extract yield and may not consider this as important a criterion in their malt choice. Large-scale brewers must weigh the higher extract levels of two-row malts against higher cost and often lower diastatic power.

Soluble protein: During the malting and brewing processes, approximately 38–45% of the malt ptotein is converted to wort-soluble protein in the form of various nitrogenous substances, including peptides and amino acids (3,5,9,14). The balance of these components in the wort is important because they contribute to beer foam and mouthfeel, beer color and flavor, and yeast metabolism.

Some soluble protein is essential. Problems can arise, however, when levels become excessive in wort or beer. This level depends on the process and product, but problems might be expected when wort-soluble protein exceeds 5.5%. High levels of protein, like those found in six-row malts, can lead to too much color development during wort boiling, filtration problems, and the risk of haze formation.

Proteins and adjuncts. The widespread use of unmalted ceteal adjuncts (corn, rice, etc.) by North American brewers developed, in part, to compensate for the higher soluble protein levels of six-row malts and, later, because adjuncts are cheaper. It is generally accepted that 150–170 ppm amino nitrogen (component of soluble protein) is required in the wort to support adequate yeast metabolism and fermentation (13). A high-protein six-row malt will provide levels far in excess of these values. Because the protein in corn or rice adjuncts is largely insoluble, it is possible to replace a portion of the malt with adjunct and thus dilute the overall level of wort-soluble nitrogen. Cereal adjuncts can be used to replace up to 40% of six-row malt grist without adversely affecting fermentation performance. Two-row malt typically allows for less adjunct use because of its lower soluble nitrogen levels and lower diastatic power.

The use of cereal adjuncts began as an innovative response to available malt quality and was born of concern for quality. Now, with improved North American malt strains available, it is no longer necessary but is now both economically advantageous and traditional for those breweries’ beers.

Proteins and DMS. Protein levels also increase the potential for dimethyl sulphide (DMS) formation in beer. The precursor of DMS, S-methyl methionine (SMM), is formed through protein breakdown during malting (14,15). Much of the SMM is convetted to DMS through thermal decomposition during kilning and wort boiling. DMS formed during kilning and wort boiling is lost to the atmosphere. Pale malts generally have higher levels of SMM than do darker, highly kilned malts. When the length or vigor of boiling is inadequate to convett all residual SMM, DMS may continue to form as the wort cools. This DMS may persist into the beer. Although some DMS is desirable in lager beers, levels in excess of 50 ppb are thought to contribute a cooked or sweet corn flavor. Six-row malts contain higher levels of the DMS precursor SMM, presumably because of their higher protein content.

Malt enzymes: Higher protein levels are somewhat positively correlated with malt enzyme levels and six-row cultivars tend to have higher levels of DP than do two-row cultivars (3,14). Levels of α-amylase are roughly equal.

Because the ratio of DP to a-amylase is greater in six-row malts, one might expect conversion to fermentable sugars to proceed more rapidly. This may be of importance when throughput (brews/day) is a concern. For the home brewer, it may provide some leeway when high mash-in temperatures are used because more conversion would take place. β-amylase, the major component of DP, is much more temperature-sensitive than α-amylase and is inactivated earlier in the mash.

Syrup adjuncts. Although the higher level of DP in six-row malts also allows brewers to use more cereal adjuncts (see “Proteins and adjuncts,” above), the situation with syrup adjuncts is somewhat different. Syrups are prepared thtough the enzymatic hydrolysis of corn starch to fermentable sugars. Because this adjunct is added in a fermentable form, excess malt enzyme is not needed for fermentation. In fact, some brewers have reported problems with the high enzyme and soluble protein levels of certain modern six-row cultivars.

A World of Choices

Many differences distinguish two- and six-row malt, but these differences have become less pronounced over the past 20 years as new varieties have been bred. The high protein and enzyme content of six-row barley makes it unlikely that a brewer producing an all-malt beer would wish to use exclusively six-row malt. Supplementing two-row malt with some six-row malt, however, might serve to increase extraction, conversion time, and fermentability, especially with high proportions of adjunct. Although most craft brewers don’t normally use corn and rice, other unmalted grains such as wheat, barley, and oats are becoming increasingly common.

On a final note, it should be mentioned that every barley cultivar, whether six-row or two-row, can have distinct effects on the organoleptic (flavor, aroma, color) characteristics of beer (3). Two-row malts are generally believed to yield a mellower flavor, but these differences are very difficult to quantify. Malting barley and malt are marketed on the basis of cultivar, and, thanks to modern breeding practices, brewers have a world of options when choosing which cultivar best meets their processing and beer quality requirements.

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