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Auburn Research Makes Alabama-Grown Beer Possible

Auburn Research Makes Alabama-Grown Beer Possible

The first beer ever brewed from Alabama-grown barley made its debut this past fall, and Auburn University researchers are looking at even more possibilities for a crop that’s not so common to farmers in the Deep South.

Braided River Brewing Company in Mobile was one of the first breweries in the state to take advantage of incorporating an Alabama-grown barley into a beer. This was made possible thanks to a collaboration including researchers and experts from the Auburn College of Agriculture, the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES), HudsonAlpha and Alabama A&M University.

“We brewed a fresh and floral pale ale this past fall named Harvest Ale,” said David Nelson, brewmaster at Braided River. “The malt tastes great and is the same quality as any other malt we’ve used, most of which is usually sourced from the Upper Midwest.”

The local barley malt already has attracted the interest of other Alabama breweries in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, with a growing waiting list of potential buyers. The project resulting in the state’s first barley malt was funded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

“We certainly like supporting our local economy,” Nelson said. “We also recognize that using in-state ingredients lessens our environmental impact, which is very important to our company.

“Harvest Ale is extra special, seasonal beer because it also incorporates Alabama-grown hops. The Cascade hops are experimental, too, as hops typically thrive in the Pacific Northwest. But these were grown a few miles from our brewery, at the (AAES) Ornamental Horticulture Research Center in Mobile.”

Researchers have shown that growing barley in Alabama is economically feasible, and that’s a critical first step, said Steve Hague, head of the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences in the Auburn College of Agriculture.

“If we cannot grow barley with a reasonable chance of success, then nothing else matters downstream,” Hague said. “In other parts of the U.S., barley is an excellent rotation crop that can add valuable organic matter to soil and improve overall soil health. Aside from the grain it produces, barley can be a useful winter forage crop.”

When the crop is in the soft dough stage and it appears, for whatever reason, to have a low grain yield potential, it is also possible for farmers to harvest the crop as a high-quality silage or hay for cattle, Hague explained.

“We need to take a harder look at barley’s potential in our forage programs in Alabama,” he said. “There is promise for this crop beyond just the brewing and distillation industries.”

Now that Auburn has demonstrated that the state’s farmers can provide consistent and affordable barley to spirit and beer artisans, the next level of this research project needs to examine the different flavor compounds produced by Alabama barley’s “terroir,” Hague said.

The French wine industry uses the term terroir to describe the influence that growing conditions have upon the quality of grapes, he said. Such factors include soil, temperature, moisture and soil microbial ecosystems.

This is why wines grown in different regions often have a distinct flavor and quality to them. The same can be said of the effect of barley’s terroir upon whiskey and beer.

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Photo Credit: gettyimages-casarsaguru

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