Heirloom Malt Brewing Award 2018

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For decades, brewers have been exploring the many flavor and aroma possibilities offered by the ever-growing variety of available hops, many of which are bred for specific characteristics and grown in specific places under specific conditions. For example, Mittelfrüh (Mittelfruh), grown in the Hallertau region north of Munich, produces very different flavors than does the identical plant grown in Idaho or the Yakima Valley. Wine experts call this environmental influence on the flavor of grapes “terroir”.
In brewing, by contrast, processes inside the malting plant are generally considered to have a much greater influence on the flavor of the malt than does the terroir in which the barley is grown. This is why, until very recently, barley breeding programs focused mostly on optimizing the plant’s agronomic characteristics — primarily yield, lodging resistance, and disease resistance — rather than its sensory characteristics. Today, however, brewers and maltsters are beginning to take into consideration also the flavor contributions of different barley varieties on otherwise identical beers.
Perhaps the classic variety that modern pale ale brewers rely on most for an “English” flavor is the hallowed Maris Otter, a British two-row winter variety first introduced in 1966. While most barley varieties have a life span of perhaps a decade before they are being replaced by newer varieties, Maris Otter has been able to maintain its place in many brewers’ mash tuns even to this day, primarily because of its bready flavors. Maris Otter has deep roots in British landraces, varieties that have evolved over centuries as nature’s autonomous adaptations to their specific environments. Such landraces are often referred to as “heirloom” plants. There are many other barley landraces — including the British Chevallier, “discovered” in the 1820s — that are being revived today for their unique flavor characteristics.

More and more brewers are now seeking out the innate traits of many heirloom barley varieties, next to the maltster’s handiwork, as important considerations in their recipe formulations. Says Frank Müller, head brewer of the Augsburg, Germany, Brauerei S. Riegele, “My yeasts simply love Steffi®.” Introduced in 1989, Steffi®, like Maris Otter, has genetic roots in several classic Continental European landraces, including one from Lower Bavaria that was popular until shortly before World War I. Another barley variety of surprising longevity is Barke®, bred in 1996 from Libelle and Alexis. It can trace its ancestry back over many generations to a Moravian landrace, Hanà, used in the first Pilsner, brewed in Pilsen in 1842, as well as Archer, an Irish landrace, and Gull, a Swedish landrace from the Island of Gotland. 

Heirloom landraces and their genetic descendants often contribute solid caramel flavors, nutty aromas, and a rich malty sweetness to the beers in which they are used. Thus, brewing with them opens up new avenues of experimentation for adventurous brewers seeking to connect to their brewing heritage.  Therefore, we invite brewers to participate in the first RMI HEIRLOOM MALT BREWING AWARD! Join in the exploration of a new flavor frontier in brewing. As some visionaries have already postulated:

Malt is the new hops!

• promote provenance and diversity of traditional barley varieties and their
potential impact on beer flavor
• inspire brewers to explore the specific qualities and characteristics of
heirloom landraces
• bring together brewers, maltsters, farmers, and breeders for a dialogue
about heirloom malts and beers across international boundaries
• raise awareness for the sensory qualities of beers made from heirloom
barley varieties
• assist in the marketing of and communication about heirloom barley trends
in brewing
• provide a platform for the development of new beer styles or the adaptation
of classic beer styles with heirloom raw materials
• encourage entries from breweries, new and traditional, or brewing projects
in cooperation with maltsters, traders, or breeders