Out to Pasture: Riverbend Malt House Discontinues 6-Row Barley Malt

It’s hard to believe, but Riverbend Malt House will be phasing out 6-row barley products by the end of 2024.

This decision speaks to the growth, evolution, and transformation that our malt house has experienced during the last thirteen years. A market for malting barley in the Southeast did not exist when we first started. Thoroughbred, which we’ve successfully worked with since our inception, was the only barley that had a genetic connection to traditional malting varieties; but that was distant at best.

Now, we’ve evolved even further to a spectrum of 2-row barley varieties and barley bred specifically to amplify beer and spirits. Oh what a time to be alive!

First batch of Thoroughbred 6-Row barley loading into the steep tank at Riverbend Malt House 1.o 

First batch of Thoroughbred loading into the steep tank at Riverbend Malt House 1.o

The Evolution From 6 To 2-Row

The road was rocky at first. Starting with organically grown grain posed additional problems and quality concerns. We shifted to conventionally grown grain after the rainy 2012 harvest rendered the organic material un-useable. This ushered in a dramatic increase in malt quality and consistency. We still had smaller kernels, but they delivered more extract and overall performance than our earlier runs. The learning curve was steep in those early years, but we kept climbing!

The world of mixed culture beer production took off shortly thereafter and our 6-row Pilsner malt quickly gained popularity with those breweries who were searching for a malt with “rustic character”. Meanwhile our Heritage Malt found its way into Mexican Lagers throughout the Southeast.

By 2018, our original 6-row Pilsner malt still had a following (you know who y’all are out there!)— but as the portfolio grew, interest waned. New 2-row varieties like Calypso and Violetta were emerging. The availability of these varieties opened new doors for us, specifically with large-scale breweries that were not set up to work with the smaller 6-row barley kernels. They achieved higher extract levels, and discovered a broader palette of flavors in the resulting products. Our single origin Pilsner series was launched soon after, revealing even more Southern terroir in beers and spirits made with Riverbend malts.

Why The Switch Now?

Which brings us to the “why now?” of this story. Simply put, we are the only market for 6-row Thoroughbred in the Southeast, and that means our growers take big risks when they plant it. Planting modern 2-row varieties offers more security for the family farms that wee buy our grains from, with more options and slightly higher yields come harvest.

We also anticipate having substantially more Avalon barley available this year. Thoroughbred served as one of the “parents” that helped bring this new variety into existence, designed to boost efficiency in craft brewhouses to boot.

6-Row Barley Malt Substitutes

Our Czech-Style Pilsner malt can be a good alternative for our 6-row products. This product brings some of the grassy notes of our OG 6-row Pilsner. If you are not set up to step mash or decoct, consider blending in a few bags of our new Speakeasy malt to help drive conversion.

We will be working on a 2-row substitute for Heritage Malt this summer as well.

Last Chance Dance

If you’d like to reserve some of the remaining inventory of 6-row Pilsner malt and Heritage Malt to make your favorite Pre-Prohibition Pilsner or Mexican Lager recipe, please give us a shout!