O (malt) barley, where art thou?
June 9, 2011 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Where in Pennsylvania can I find malt barley seed? A friend and new brewer wants to grow his own barley, but prefers to source it locally and organically. My barley fu fails.

Caveat: I have never grown grains and don't drink beer, so please bear with any errors of terminology, etc.

My friend in SE Pennsylvania is new to brewing and would like to plant malt barley (this differs from other barley?) in his yard for a future batch of homebrew. Ideally, he would obtain organic seed locally; he is waiting for a reply from Rodale, but is looking for other sources of information, seed, etc. He is strictly backyard gardening at this point, and is also relatively new to (but strongly interested in) growing his own ingredients. I think he likes the idea of brewing as-to-home-possible beer, so SE Pa. sources preferred, Pa. and surrounding states secondarily/online, and distant locations/online run a distant third.

What does he need to know to make this project possible? Leaving the actual malting out of it--a separate question--what are good sources, Pennsylvania/online, for organic malt barley seed? Are there any must-have reading materials about growing it? Can this even be done in SE Pa.? My skim through the joys of barley suggests that it grows best in colder climes; is this true? Any sources out there that you have liked and had good experiences with? Best practices for growing? Mills in Pa. that sell seed?

Again, there is an email in to Rodale (no answer yet). The PASA site doesn't turn up anything terribly helpful either, so I turn to you--friends, homebrewers, gardeners--for leads and information. Many thanks in advance.
posted by MonkeyToes to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Idaho's extensions have information on their website about both six row and two row barley varities, which should give him an idea of what's out there (and a toehold to help him search for someone to sell it to him), but won't help him make the best choice for his area. So, I would contact the cooperative extension in his area--they'll probably be able to make an informed recommendation about which will do well in his particular corner of the climate/disease/growing season.

He should also read up on the differences between two- and six-row types--he probably already recognizes them from his brewing (e.g. Crystal, a two-row), but I imagine successful malting is another can of worms altogether.

It also might be worth checking with the American Malting Barley Association. They might just ask him to join, but maybe that would be the next logical step if he wants to really sink his teeth into this.
posted by pullayup at 6:20 PM on June 9, 2011

Correction: I think I confused myself about Crystal malt--I was assuming it was made from the variety named Crystal as well as being a specific type of malt--but, now that I think about this, it seems unlikely, and I'm fairly sure that "Crystal malt" refers only to malt produced by a specific process. Most malts aren't identified by variety, only by whether they're two- or six-row.
posted by pullayup at 6:29 PM on June 9, 2011

Johnny's is in Maine and has 2-row barley.

Your friend should definitely read The Homebrewer's Garden. The malting process is described in detail in that book, with instructions on how to do it at home.
posted by cog_nate at 7:03 PM on June 9, 2011

I'm a long-time customer of Fedco Seeds, also in Maine, and they're really good about supplying northeast-appropriate varieties (though they're quite a bit norther and easter than you are). They sell a six-row malting barley...as a cover crop, but I wouldn't read too much in to that. If you or your friend are gardeners, you should request a catalog, it's great.
posted by pullayup at 7:35 PM on June 9, 2011

I think two row barley is what he wants (not that six row is never used but my hazy recollection of George Fix's Principles of Brewing Science suggest two row is preferred.

After it is grown and dried, he'll need to sprout it, and then when the root to be is about 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the seed (but not out past the hull - break up some malted barley to see what "right" looks like, he would dry it, either on a clean surface in the sun or by heating it somehow.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:41 PM on June 9, 2011

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