From Ground to Glass: Evaluation of unique barley varieties for western Washington craft malting, brewing and distilling

This research project was initiated to provide regional agronomic and end-use data for specialty barley producers and end-users in western Washington, and to evaluate for the impact of barley variety on distillate and beer flavor compounds. The long-term aim of the project is to cultivate high-value markets for grain based on distinctive end-use qualities such as taste, aroma, and mouth feel. This study utilized a breeder-extension-farmer-craft brewer/distiller-food science collaboration to evaluate barley varieties for organic production and value-added processing. We hypothesized that unique flavors exist among the germplasm in the WSU barley breeding program that would be of interest to craft maltsters, brewers, and distillers. Nine barley breeding lines and/or varieties were evaluated for valuable agronomic and end-use characteristics. In 2017 and 2018, three replicates of breeding lines (nine in 2017, four advanced to 2018) were grown on field-scale plots in Southwest Washington. Grain from both years was evaluated for grain and malt quality. Micro-malting for malt analysis was completed utilizing two different steep regimes to evaluate the impact of malt regime on malt quality. Barley from 2017 and 2018 trials was distilled by Sandstone Distillery and unaged distillate was analyzed for flavor compounds using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) and Liquid Chromatography Quadrupole Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (LC/QTOF-MS) at the WSU Wine Science Center. Hot barley steeps were evaluated using LC/QTOF-MS for the same varieties grown in Western and Eastern Washington. Malt from 2018 trials was brewed into beer, and mean acceptance ratings for aroma, appearance, taste/flavor, sweetness, bitterness and overall likings along a 9-point scale were obtained from trained sensory panelists for hot barley steeps and beer, in collaboration with the WSU Food Science program. A community sensory evaluation was undertaken at the Tumwater Brewfest. Barley lines showed difference in malt quality within lines and in comparison with Copeland as an industry standard malt variety. Several lines were competitive with Copeland regarding grain yield, fine extract (alcohol yield potential), and water sensitivity (need for altered steep regimes in the malt house), with generally higher levels in breeding lines as compared to Copeland of beta glucan. Altered steep regimes improved overall malt performance when adjusting for water sensitivity. Differences in new make whiskey flavor compounds were detected based on breeding line, trial location, and distillation conditions. Flavor compounds in new make whiskey, as well as their relative incidence and flavor character (spiciness, fruity), could be assigned by breeding line. Preliminary sensory evaluation of fresh-make (i.e., not barrel-aged) whiskies distilled from the barleys from the 2017 harvest found sufficient differences in the aromas of undiluted and diluted (2:1) samples to justify conducting a descriptive analysis of the samples upon approval of the IRB. Approval of the IRB is anticipated for early September 2019. The descriptive analysis will be conducted to evaluate the differences in aroma and flavor intensity across the samples in this set of whiskies, followed by evaluation of correlations if any between the previously obtained chemical composition and the sensory perception of the whiskies. Trained panelists detected various significant differences in end-use qualities in hot malt steeps and beer regarding appearance, aroma, taste/flavor, sweetness, and for overall liking. For evaluating aroma, sample 12WA-120.14 was liked the most and sample Copeland the least. Aged whiskey from Sandstone Distillery will be evaluated at the 2020 Cascadia Grains Conference, and into in the future, to track modification of end-use characteristics over time.


Grant Information

  • Project ID: 165
  • Project Status: Complete


  • Principal Investigator(s): Bramwell, S.
  • Investigator(s): Collins, T., Murphy, K.
  • Grant Amount: $39,820


Additional Funds Leveraged

  • Port of Olympia – $10,500
  • Thurston County Lodging Tax – $5,000
  • WSU Barley Breeding program (contribution) – $5,000
  • Lewis County Distressed County funds for grain facility in Lewis County with Port of Chehalis – $800,000
  • Legislative bid (unsuccessful) for 2019/2020 biennium for a large-scale grain storage facility at Port of Chehalis – $1.5 million. A supplemental budget request will be submitted by Northwest Agriculture Business Center (project partner) in 2020 for this grain handling facility



Description Metric Complete
30 growers attend field days and are aware of opportunity to grow barley in western WA 25


10 local government decision-makers more aware of brewing/distilling using local grain 12 of 10 x
Growers have agronomic information about performance of available barley varieties 2017, 18 field days, 2019 summary x
Growers and craft brewers, distillers have end-use data on available barley varieties 2018 field day hand-out x
Research results used in ongoing grain mill feasibility study with local land trust 2018 survey work, WSU intern & Port Olympia and Port Chehalis x
Farmer are interested in grain network, want to experiment with integrating grain-veg-livestock* 20+ farmers In progress
  • Local officials with increased knowledge:
  • *This work dovetailed with 2018 survey work focused on establishing a grain network and grain handling facility in south Puget Sound. Over 20 grain farmers completed the survey, as well as 15 local grain buyers.
  • A team of local food system representatives toured Port of Skagit grain handling facilities and businesses in July 2018. Visited The Bread Lab, Skagit Valley Malting, met with Port of Skagit executives, Cairnspring Mill, Skagit Valley Brewing Academy
  • Established a non-binding Letter of Intent with two Ports, two EDCs, two Conservation Districts, WSU Thurston and Lewis Counties, Cities of Tumwater, Tenino, Chehalis, Olympia on “collaboration for planning and development of regional grain and food system infrastructure”.
    • Facilitated a meeting of some 30 of these Letter signatories August 26th, 2019 at Centralia College to discuss coordinated regional development efforts, including for grain storage and handling facilities.
  • Worked with Port of Chehalis on 2019 funding for grain storage facility planning and design project. Facilitated $800,000 Distressed County Funds allocation to Port of Chehalis.

Medium term

15 Local brewers/distillers/feed purchasers are provided research result publications Working on summary for local circulation, 2019
Brew/distillate from local barley featured in three regional agri-tourism marketing materials. Complete. Tumwater Artesian Brewfest
160+ community members attend events, increase awareness brewing/distilling with local grain Complete. Tumwater Brewfest tasting event
Local craft brewing and distilling initiative in City of Tumwater uses information to promote development of Craft Brewing and Distilling Center Complete. Materials social media for City Tumwater support on Brewfest event
Consumers are willing to pay a small premium for local craft beer, spirits TBD. Data analysis yet to complete from Brewfest
One local distillery regularly sources organic barley 1 sources barley, no organic available
Local agri-tourism organizations (VCB) and jurisdictions (City of Tumwater) are interested in matching funds to support community sensory panel agri-tourism event Compete. Thurston County matched, VCB in-kind support, Tumwater in-kind support


Long term

Ed material on organic barley for Craft Brewing-Distilling available through WSU In progress
Integrating grain into crop rotation including in cultivating success advanced course In progress
Small-scale (and large-scale) grain mill, handling is established for mixing feed, brokering sales In progress at local Thurston farm, and Port of Chehalis
A local grain equipment cooperative is established to farms to integrate grain production In progress
Barley is used in intensive vegetable crop rotation for feed and brewing-distilling to close nutrient loops, integrate crops-livestock, and break pest and disease cycles Not at this time
A field trial is established to evaluate the impact of grain-vegetable crop rotation on specific pest and/or disease severity or population Not at this time