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engagement with AMBA. “For a long while, most of our members were the only ones malting barley. There’s a few on our list that are just for a couple of craft brewers who are interested in them. Even if it’s a niche variety, we like to keep it on.” As craft brewing and craft distilling have grown, he said, interest in AMBA has mirrored it, even among larger players. Brown-Forman recently joined, and a few craft distilleries are now AMBA members. “We hadn’t had a lot of distilling members until fairly recently,” he explains. “Back in 2005, we had seven members. Now we have 80. They [the members] want a voice in what varieties are getting out there and what they look like,” Heisel said. In addition, planting a listed variety helps growers access insurance if they don’t have an agreement with a malting, brewing or distilling company. While a variety’s inclusion on the list is not a purely numerical, lab-driven exercise, AMBA does provide specific guidelines, such as plumpness, germination rate, protein levels, extract, color and enzyme levels. Breeders provide early-generation samples of new strains to AMBA, which provides pilot material for members to try. “We want to make sure you can make good beer or whiskey with it,” Heisel said. “The industry’s been testing barley since Prohibition. Prohibition set everything back,” he said, explaining that brewers and distillers found themselves using inferior feed barley in an unregulated market. “That’s when the industry got serious about testing new lines and making sure they’re suitable. We have guidelines for breeders, these are our ideal characteristics.” While some members may lobby for certain strains, continued usage is necessary to stay on the list. Heisel pointed out that Meredith, which was dropped from the list this year, looked like a solid malt for inclusion but wasn’t embraced by maltsters. “When something drops off and nobody’s using it any more … they die of old age, sort of. It looked like a great variety, but it died because it didn’t malt very well,” he said. Many of the malts that have dropped off over the years are sixrow varieties. This year’s recommended list includes 22 two-row strains and seven six-row strains. “Ten, fifteen years ago we were more even between six-row and two-row. Our list has gotten longer, so there’s definitely more tworows on the list,” Heisel said. “Six–rows are getting more phased out.” The needs of distillers will continue to play an increasing role for AMBA. Heisel said the next step with regard to the industry will be to “review our guidelines and revise as needed to address not only the malting quality needs of grain distillers, but also the needs for malt distilling.” “Growing our research and programs will require growing our distilling membership.”

Visit www.ambainc.org for more information on the American Malting Barley Association.

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Artisan Spirit: Spring 2018  
Artisan Spirit: Spring 2018  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.