As the temperatures warm and the barley starts to dry down, I know it is time for a gathering in the fields. Annual field days offer the perfect opportunity for researchers to share their latest work with an audience of interested growers and maltsters. A few weeks ago, we met at the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Warsaw, VA for just such an occasion: Virginia Small Grains Field Day I’m always impressed by the size and scope of the work conducted here— more than 200 acres devoted to a mix of malting barley and red winter wheat research.
In true barley geek fashion, I was super excited to learn more about the release of Avalon, the first 2-row malting barley to be “born and bred in the South”.
I still remember our first meeting with Dr. Carl Griffey and Wynse Brooks from Virginia Tech back in the early days of Riverbend Malt House. We had a lively discussion about malting barley in the Southeast, which was basically non-existent in 2012. We asked about the potential for a 2-row winter barley variety that could match specifications from the more traditional growing regions. We also pitched them on the dramatic growth of the craft beer industry, which was growing at double digit rates back then.
They offered a window into their work, helping us to understand the process of crossing different varieties (aka germplasm) with the goal of improving yield, disease resistance, and a host of other factors. Combine that variety development work with nutrient and fungal management studies and you have a robust program perfectly suited to support the craft malting industry
But wait… there was a catch. They politely told us we’d have to wait up to 10 years for a 2-row malting variety to make it to production. I remember thinking What? I have to wait? I just told them how fast the industry is growing!
Flash forward to 2022, and the first commercial harvest of Avalon is here! Check out this Virginia Tech article about how the Extension Center is leading an effort to establish Southwest Virginia as a top producer of malting-quality barley to boost the state’s craft beer industry.
What can we expect from this variety, you ask?
Early pilot malting revealed some beautiful flavors. Notes of rich fruit, freshly baked cake, and honeysuckle were all detected at a fairly low SRM. Commercial-scale runs will give us an even better idea of the flavor options available to us as either a Pale Ale or Vienna-style malt.
I’m happy to report that Avalon also shines in the analytical department. We have seen consistently high extracts, low beta glucan levels, and strong enzyme performance.
This release is a fitting crescendo to the long and successful careers of both Dr. Griffey and Brooks, both who have announced their retirement plans. The craft malting community of the Southeast owes much to their efforts and wish them well in the years ahead!
— Brent Manning