This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of The New Brewer, a bimonthly journal published by the Brewers Association.
As Brewers Association (BA) member breweries continue to grow and gain market share, looking to the future becomes increasingly important. Small independent brewers have specific immediate concerns, but identifying and addressing long-term issues and challenges is just as important, especially as the stewardship roles of brewers also increase. The BA Technical Committee and its supporting sub-committees have worked to develop a unique set of goals, priorities and projects that will ensure a healthy future not only for breweries, but for the entire supply chain. supply and their local communities.
As part of this shared vision, the Brewers Association is proud to fund craft beer research and service grants to support its member breweries. Funding priorities to date have included hop and malt research, as well as projects related to safety and sustainability. BA funding has supported research and service grants for the development of public barley and hop varieties, for hop diseases and aroma, and to support affiliated grower organizations nationally and state.
For 2016, the BA is supporting over a dozen research projects and fellowships. Details of two examples follow; both illustrate the importance of protecting the brewing industry’s supply chain. Both support important parts of the BA’s mission to “promote access to raw materials and markets” and to “support research and advancements in safety, sustainability, education, technology and raw materials”.
Cascade powdery mildew
Since the BA conducts the annual survey of hop usage, the Cascade hop variety has held the top spot as the most widely used hops by American craft brewers. Clearly the workhorse of small independent brewers, Cascade’s flavors and aromas have long been considered the distinctive signature of craft beer. The inherent genetic resistance of hops to powdery mildew is not incidental to the widespread cultivation and use of Cascade. Powdery mildew is the most costly disease for the American hop industry and, by extension, for brewers. The rapid expansion of cascading planting has allowed the powdery mildew fungus to develop greater virulence in just the past three to four years. Studies have confirmed that cascading virulent strains of the fungus are present in the Pacific Northwest. In short, it appears that the signature hops used in many craft beers are in danger of losing their resistance to a common but costly disease. This development could lead to lower yields, higher prices and lower quality in Cascade hops.
With support from the BA, USDA Research Plant Pathologist David Gent confirmed powdery mildew in 2012 and 2013 on Cascade in the field and infection of Cascade in the lab. In 2014, outbreaks of powdery mildew, sometimes severe, were documented in established Cascade yards with planting material sourced from virus-free, type-conforming planting material. In 2015, the project received funding to continue to develop knowledge, understanding and approaches to mitigate powdery mildew damage on Cascade. Research will also focus on other varieties derived from Cascade, and their susceptibility to virulent strains of powdery mildew. He will also seek to identify powdery mildew resistance in male plants that could be useful parents in breeding efforts to develop new resistant varieties to replace Cascade. It is believed that resistant cultivars offer a long term sustainable solution to the negative impact of powdery mildew. The Ghent project will give growers tools to ensure BA members have access to Cascade in the short term and will support the development of disease resistant, economically viable and sustainable hop varieties in the future.
Spring Malting Barley Varieties
In 2014, the Brewers Association identified several mismatches and/or disconnects between the current and future needs of craft brewers and the supply and markets for US-grown barley malt in the document “Malting Barley Features for Craft Brewers “. Some of the shortcomings relate to barley itself, while others relate to market structure, scale and practice. The growing number of brewing companies and craft brands means that continued innovation in all-malt brands will need to be fueled by an increasingly diverse supply of barley malt.
Craft beer drinkers are increasingly looking for locally brewed brands. Cottage malting and brewing industries across the United States increasingly want to use locally produced grains for their products. The current supply of barley in the United States is mainly produced along the upper tier: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Minnesota in the United States; and Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada. Each of these regions has large barley breeding programs that develop varieties suited to their specific growing regions and are quite different from those in the eastern United States.
To meet the growing need for locally grown barley and to increase the diversity of barley and malt sources for member breweries, the BA is funding the Eastern Spring Barley Nursery (ESBN) in 2016. Led by Dr Richard Horsley of North Dakota State University (NDSU), this research is a collaborative effort supported by Cornell University, Michigan State University, NDSU, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University, University of Maine, and University of Vermont . Twenty-five varieties of barley were selected by soliciting suggestions from craft maltsters and brewers in the producing regions of the participating institutions. NDSU will distribute seeds to each cooperating university. Using standard production practices for small grain plots, researchers will collect data on days to heading, plant height, leaf diseases, lodging and yield. After harvest, each location will then send a sample of each entry to NDSU, where they will measure grain roundness, grain protein, test weight, pre-harvest germination and deoxynivalenol (DON) accumulation. The resulting report will summarize information on the agronomic performance, disease resistance, barley quality and malt quality of each variety. The report will enable local agricultural extension staff, growers, maltsters and other stakeholders to make informed decisions about which varieties of malting barley to grow in their area.
Both of these research projects address the long-term threats and needs of the brewing industry’s supply chains. Supporting research in these important areas increases the resilience of agricultural systems that supply the brewing ingredients. In 2016, craft brewers will consume approximately one-third of all malt used by all US brewers, and a similar proportion of the entire US hop crop. Craft brewers definitely have their skin in the game and are taking the right steps to invest in the health of their critical suppliers. The efforts of members today will enable them and future generations to brew the highest quality beers in a way that enhances the value of their business.