The Rise of Craft Beer

Independent Brewers Association Beer News, Technical Article


By: R.Nischwitz(1), P.Rigoni(1), M.Tempone(1) and D.Cryer(2)

(1) Barrett Burston Malting Co, Richmond, Victoria

(2) Cryer Malt



The growing consumer appetite for new and interesting beers has created great opportunities for brewers on a global level. The past 7 years have seen double digit growth in market share in the USA for craft beer as well as booming demand in many other parts of the world, including Australia and New Zealand.

While the definition of “craft beer” is frequently debated in the public arena, we also need to consider the quality needs of this growing industry. In Australia, maltsters are faced with a growing range of barley varieties that are predominantly targeted at the export malt market. Discussion about barley varieties generally focus on malt fermentability and the flavour attributes derived from the malt. Beyond these issues it is often difficult to define exactly what breeders should be targeting to meet the needs of the craft brewing industry.

To meet these challenges, malting companies must be well placed to supply both large and small breweries alike, offering a wide range of malt styles made from different raw materials. Some craft brewers prefer to source their base malts locally with a marketing focus on traceability and local supplier identity. This poses additional challenges for the storage and logistical capabilities of companies wishing to meet these market demands and necessitates close and well-established relationships between maltsters and their supply chain partners.

This paper explores the challenges ahead from Barrett Burston’s perspective in Australia and the global view of GrainCorp Malt, operating plants in a diverse range of geographies and markets, requiring a suite of products that will satisfy this growing demand. One successful strategy has been the alignment of the separate malting entities with businesses that deal directly with craft brewers, home brewers and distillers and offer a one stop shop of ingredients for a diverse range of beverages. From this collective experience we look at emerging trends in base malts.


Craft beer, flavour, fermentability, barley variety

The growth of craft beer

The growth of craft beer is changing the nature of the brewing industry in many parts of the world in major ways. In 2016 US craft beer accounted for approximately 12.3 % of beer volume (according to the Brewers Association)13*Industry estimates are that craft beer uses malt inclusion rates that are generally 2.5 to 3 times higher than the large brewers. Small brewers tend to use a higher proportion of malt and hops in their products in general and so have a significant effect on the barley and hop market. Table I shows the increase in the number of craft breweries over a relatively short period of time as well as the size of the craft market by volume in the USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia.

Table I Craft brewery numbers and market share data [8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15]






No of breweries 2008






No of breweries 2016






% market share by Vol. 2016-Total Craft






*According to the BA definition, a craft brewer is deemed to be small, independent and traditional.

**Published market share of SIBA members only.

Malt specifications for craft brewers – base malts

The range of malts available nowadays for craft beer production is extensive. Many malt suppliers boast not only a wide range of barley malts, but often also a range of malts made from other cereals, and in some cases an organic range. The discussion in this paper will be mainly limited to base malts such as Pilsner and ale malts.

Table II shows the typical specification range across a range of suppliers for both ale and Pilsner malt. Specifications can vary widely across different malt suppliers for parameters such as Kolbach Index (KI) and Diastatic Power. Fermentability, more commonly defined by Apparent Attenuation Limit – AAL, is not generally part of the specification and because Diastatic Power can be a poor indicator of attenuation in the brewery, the malt fermentability may not be well defined. Some maltsters also supply flavour profiles for their products in the form of descriptive text or spider diagrams, highlighting various aspects of the malt flavour wheel. However, it would be unusual to find any flavour information on individual deliveries, seasonal variance or growing location.

Table II EBC malt quality parameter range for craft malts (various supplier web sites)


% fine extract

% Protein



Wort beta- glucan




Col (EBC)


Min 80

Max 11.5

36 – 45

(typically low for a

German Pilsner malt)

Min 130

Max 200

80 % min

Min 200

3– 4.5


Min 80

8.5 – 11.5

37 – 48


higher than

Pilsner malt)

Min 120

Max 200

80 % min

Min 140


Different quality parameters are rated as having different levels of importance by individual brewers. While malt extract is an important economic indicator for all brewers, it is likely that processing consistency, flavour and the level of fermentability can be of greater concern to some brewers. The Kolbach Index (KI), wort viscosity, friability and beta-glucan level provide information about the degree of protein and cell wall modification and may warn us of likely processing problems. While the malt specification provides some assurance on malt performance in the brewhouse, it often does not provide any detailed flavour profiling.

Free amino nitrogen (FAN), KI and colour, more than any other parameters, should relate to beer flavour based on our knowledge of flavour chemistry. A higher FAN will drive both flavour and colour development. Low FAN levels can adversely affect beer flavour due to incomplete or stuck fermentations16.While FAN is directly related to both flavour and yeast nutrition, the composition of FAN is generally not routinely tested.

Work carried out at Oregon State University indicated that the degree of protein modification shows a significant link with various beer flavour attributes on a nano-brew scale5. Genotype was found to significantly influence body, colour, chemical flavours, floral, fruit, toasted and toffee flavours. Protein content may influence KI and FAN and these parameters may have some impact on flavour. Craft malts in the USA are generally slightly lower in protein than malts destined for the big breweries.

Other likely factors that may influence beer flavour are husk astringency and malt freshness. Malt suppliers don’t often specify barley variety for ale malt unless the variety is an heirloom type. In practice however, barley variety is usually specified on the malt sales contract.

Are current base malts suitable for craft beer ?

Although award winning beers are regularly made using a vast number of different malt varieties from various parts of the world, this indicates little about brewers’ satisfaction with their malt performance. The number of UK maltsters selling malt made from Maris Otter and other speciality barley varieties suggests that many brewers are after something unique when it comes to malt flavour.

The Brewers Association in the USA17 details the needs of malt for “all malt” beers as requiring the following:

  • Distinctive flavours and aromas
  • Lower free amino nitrogen (FAN)
  • Lower total protein
  • Lower diastatic power (DP)
  • Lower Kolbach IndexWhile lower protein levels can generally be selected for in barley and KI can be manipulated during malting, DP and fermentability are more difficult to control and are largely determined by protein levels and genotype. Many modern Australian barley varieties are better suited to lager brewing using a starch based adjunct than making all malt beers and this would generally also be the case in the USA according to the Brewers Association17. The fact that US craft brewers use a high proportion of the annual barley and hop crops is starting to drive research for more suitable raw materials for “all malt’ brewing.In 2017 Barrett Burston and Cryer Malt sent out a survey to craft brewers to learn more about their quality concerns regarding base malt characteristics. Over 30 brewers responded, covering a range of breweries from small gypsy operations to the largest of the Australian craft brewers. Opinions on the quality attributes of base malts for craft brewing varied significantly (a finding shared by the Brewers Association study in 2012). The survey concentrated largely on the flavour and fermentability issues so often highlighted by Australian brewers. Although only a small number of NZ brewery responses were received they tended to agree with the comments from Australian brewers on most points, except that the NZ brewers tended to be more satisfied with their malt fermentability. The learnings from the survey can be summarised as follows:
  • Most brewers thought of barley variety as being an important factor associated with beer flavour.
  • Approximately half the brewers surveyed were satisfied with the base malts available from their own country of origin, but some felt strongly that the malting industry should be doing a lot more to provide more suitable malts.
  • There was some support in the belief that heirloom varieties such as Maris Otter offer an advantage in terms of beer flavour.
  • About half the Australian brewers and most of the NZ brewers surveyed used Maris Otter in one or more of their beer brands.
  • The main issues that brewers have with modern Australian and NZ varieties was not simply concerned with flavour – fermentability and consistency also rated highly.
  • Fermentability was more of an issue with Australian brewers, some feeling strongly that modern barley varieties were too high in fermentability.
  • Most brewers would happily use newly developed varieties if they met their fermentability and flavour requirements. Price did not appear to be a major obstacle concerning malt purchasing, quality and consistency tended to be more important. While extract efficiency was seen to be important, it was not seen as more important than consistency and good flavour.
  • Other than flavour and fermentability, quality concerns tended to be associated with the following

– Inconsistent grain size and friability
– Overall product consistency
– Viscosity problems
– Foreign matter in malt bags
– Poor flavour stability
– Kolbach Index being too high

  • There was a significant divergence in opinion on whether beer drinkers really value locally grown brewing ingredients.
  • There was a general belief that terroir was a useful marketing tool.

Emerging craft malt trends

As our markets for craft beer mature and become more competitive, brewers are forced to supply consumers with products that clearly differentiate themselves from the many beer brands available in store or on premises. This has a flow on effect for malt suppliers. Some emerging trends that may impact on malt supply are:

  • Supply gaps in malt quality are increasingly being identified by craft brewers, with more diversity and bespoke specification requirements being sought.
  • Increasingly brewers are turning to grains such as rye and wheat for their point of difference. One of the industry trends noted in domestic markets is the increasing demand for wheat malt. While wheat beers are in general declining in Australia the amount of wheat malt being sold into the market is increasing as these malts are being incorporated into other beer styles.
  • Also in Australia, the demand for locally sourced grains is gaining popularity with brewers, possibly due to consumers changing attitudes to social and environmental impacts (e.g. local jobs and support for local growers, clean and green practices, low food miles etc).
  • Increasing original gravities of all-malt brands create demand for higher malt usage.
  • Awareness of the importance of FAN levels and their impact on many beer flavourattributes, including flavour stability, is on the rise.
  • A greater need for lower fermentability malt is being voiced.
  • Craft malting plants are on the rise in some parts of the world.

A greater demand for bagged malt is forcing maltsters to build new bagging facilities(roughly 75 % of the brewers in the USA use bagged malt, Brewers Association 2012).

Malt flavour

What flavour does malt contribute to beer?

The rich flavour that malt contributes to beer originates from a vast number of chemical reactions taking place during malting. Much of the character of the finished malt comes from the kilning process but originates in the raw barley and the changes taking place during germination. Compounds that affect flavour may include volatile fatty acids, furans, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, pyrazines, sulphur compounds, non-volatile melanoidins, proteins, polypeptides, polyphenols and carbohydrates2. Barley variety no doubt plays a role in the flavour chemistry of malt. Changes continue to occur throughout the malting and brewing process and also during beer storage.

The formation of colour and flavour compounds is in large part due the reaction between reducing sugars and free amino nitrogen to form Maillard reaction products, forming a large range of melanoidins. The heat of kilning drives the degradation of phenolic acids, the caramelisation of sugars, Maillard reaction products, Strecker degradation of amino acids and the degradation of fatty acids from lipids in the grain1. While this flavour chemistry is evident in base malts such as lager and ale malts the intensity of heat used in roasted products drives the flavour development to an even higher level, where pyrazines, pyrroles, furanones, furans and thiophenes provide a more intense and complex roasted flavour and aroma.

The processing conditions applied by the maltster will have a major impact on malt flavour. Kiln programs may vary widely between maltsters and will have a significant influence on a range of malt derived flavours. The degree of recirculation during kilning is known to alter the perception of maltiness – lower recirculation tending to more grassy, dimethyl sulphide and green flavours, whereas increasing recirculation can accentuate the sweet malty character and tend towards a nutty flavour profile3.

In addition to the rich malt complexity of some base malts there are also characteristics that detract from beer flavour, such as that attributed to the presence of excessive dimethyl sulphide, giving beer a cooked vegetable character and the oxidation of fatty acids to form staling carbonyl compounds. Lipoxygenase (LOX) assists in the mechanism of the staling process. Again, barley variety can play a role in these processes. Some brewers are now using low or null-LOX varieties to slow down the staling chemistry – aiming to provide their customers with products that stay fresh for longer. Some malts have also on occasion been described as somewhat astringent, perhaps from husk derived components such as tannins.

What flavours do our base malts contribute to beer ?

The malty flavour of lager malts and some of the higher coloured base specialty malts such as Ale and Vienna are often described as malty, grainy, sweet, bready and biscuity. Base malts for craft brewing are used for a wide range of beers styles. Starting with a rich and malty base malt is desirable for the production of lightly coloured ales and some lagers and Pilsners. For styles dominated by darker specialty malts or intense hop and yeast flavours it is somewhat less important to use a rich and malty base malt. Our base malt survey suggested a complex depth of maltiness was desirable for many beer styles. This depth may be difficult to define precisely.

Does barley variety play a significant role in beer flavour ?

In Australia base malts are sourced from both local and overseas suppliers and different brewers have different philosophies on the barley varieties most suitable for their processes and products.

2-row and 6-row barleys have been in cultivation for thousands of years. It was not until the early 20th century that plant breeding and selection was highly refined. Chevallier barley was grown in England in the 1820s and at one point was growing in California, Australia and NZ. Plumage Archer (1905) and Spratt Archer (1908) were said to be the first genetically true varieties to be introduced into the malt supply chain4.

Research carried out by the Brewing Research International (BRi) suggests that malts made from Maris Otter show better flavour characteristics than other more recently released varieties. According to BRi studies, their blind taste panel preferred the taste of Maris Otter

beers and the flavour spectrum was said to have clean, crisp and biscuit notes4. The internet is a source of numerous articles on the virtues of Maris Otter malt.

There has also been some excellent research indicating the link between genetics and the richness of malt derived flavour in beer. The work published by Oregon State University used a mapping population derived from Full Pint and CDC Copeland 5,6. Full Pint was bred at Oregon and has gained great popularity with craft brewers in the USA. The study shows a link between genotype and flavour attributes, supported by statistical analysis. Unsurprisingly, there was also an association with growing location and sensory attributes.

Although the focus on barley breeding for craft brewing has in past decades been limited, barley accreditation regimes such as the Barley Australia system select for important malt characteristics such as low wort beta glucan content to promote satisfactory lautering performance and low wort and beer haze. While there has been a breeding bias towards lager beer production, the expert taste panels ensure that any perceived flavour defects are prevented from making it through to the market. Both heirloom and modern varieties have their place in craft beer production and many awards have been won with and without the use of heirloom varieties.

The comments from our survey regarding beer flavour relating to Maris Otter tended to be associated more with depth of flavour for certain beer styles rather than one or two single flavour notes. One brewer commented that they did not like the flavour of Maris Otter malt but that it did process well. Many brewers preferred it for certain beer styles. Others were happy with newly approved malt varieties for most beer brands. Therefore beer style tends to impact on which malts were preferred.

Another approach to enriching maltiness is to augment the flavour of base malts with low amounts of specialty malts. Some brewers in our survey were in agreement with this statement. Depending on the beer style this may or may not be practical as beer colour will generally increase. The rich maltiness of some specialty malts such as Munich malt may offer the brewer a broader palate of malt flavours.

Future direction for craft barley varieties

The resurrection of heirloom varieties

Australian maltsters have for some years pondered the demise of Schooner barley, a truly low fermentability type. This barley was bred in South Australia, released in 1983 and had for many years supplied the domestic brewers with a product well suited to making a range of beers, including mid-strength and low alcohol products. Its beta-amylase genetics (Sd2L thermostability type) ensures that starch degradation leaves sufficient dextrins in the finished product to promote body in the beer.

Table III shows a typical malt profile for Schooner from 2012 and 2013, against some newer varieties. This represents at least 150 batches for each variety. Clearly the data shows Schooner to be low in diastatic power and fermentability, well suited for the production of English ales, Pilsners and low or mid strength lager beers. The cost in using this variety, which has lost favour with growers and export malt markets, is that the malts in the conventional KI range are generally higher in wort beta-glucan and viscosity and the lower

potential extract is economically undesirable. Growers have lost favour with the variety due to its poor yields against newer varieties and nowadays there are very few Schooner growers left. There are efforts in Australia to try and resurrect Schooner for the craft beer industry. Whether this results in a successful outcome is yet to be seen.

Schooner was sometimes used as a comparison variety in the Pilot Brewing Australia accreditation brews around a decade ago. The expert taste panels that judged the beers at the time did not indicate any significant differences from other new varieties but the lower fermentability was always apparent.

Table III EBC malt quality parameters (BBM all plants 2012 and 2013)




Total Protein


Sol N



































The role of plant breeders

The work done on malting barley varieties like Maris Otter via flavour testing and on Full Pint in the USA through the research undertaken via Oregon State University highlights the fact that it is possible to select and breed for varieties more suited to all malt beers styles such as pale ale. In theory, much could be done to resurrect heirloom varieties or search the breeding germplasm for lower fermentability and more flavourful genotypes. Gene based approaches for developing varieties with specific flavour attributes are feasible but not straightforward6. There does not appear to be a causal relationship between routine malt quality parameters and sensory attributes6.

What may or may not be possible in countries like Australia and New Zealand comes down to market size and the resources available to breeding companies operating in a competitive commercial environment. If brewing and expert flavour evaluation work were required at early stages of variety development then the cost would be prohibitive. Perhaps a more pragmatic approach might be to reselect old favourites or select for the SD2L beta-amylase types and test for flavour attributes once the agronomic and malt quality baselines have been established. Some breeders are actively pursuing the use of low fermentability types in their cross breeds.

In the case of Maris Otter the variety was said to have been rejuvenated via reselection of the most vigorous plants7 to provide a somewhat better yield over time. The strict control of pure Maris Otter seed has helped to maintain its current quality.

The challenges for maltsters

To meet the challenge of supplying craft brewers with the best possible malts in future the malting industry needs to re-evaluate the model of enormous batch sizes using only barley varieties suited to high starch adjunct brewing markets. Some maltings have designed purpose built equipment that is able to process smaller batches but operate as part of the main malting plant.

Smaller batches lend themselves better to the adjustment of malting conditions over a number of malt runs to optimise quality and allow for efficient blending of malt so that the brewer receives an optimised and consistent product. This also requires sufficient storage space to allow medium term malt storage for consistent delivery to customers over many months.

Companies having a global footprint can also benefit from knowledge and technology sharing across a range of different markets.

Flexible production lines with efficient bagging operations, offering a range of packaging sizes, are important to service customers of varying production output.

In Australia, BBM has long standing relationships with barley breeders and is looking for varieties that may offer an advantage in terms of fermentability, flavour and processing efficiency. These relationships extend to a range of growers and agents that are essential to effectively coordinate new barley variety trials into the future.

Subsidiaries that can provide a wide range of brewing ingredients (such as Cryer Malt) from global sources offer a way for large malting companies to service craft brewers over the long term with a dedicated team who understand craft brewers’ needs. This allows the maltsters to focus on producing quality malts while still offering a personalised service to brewers.

And lastly, let’s not forget home brewers – they represent some of the most passionate individuals that depend on our products and represent the craft brewers of the future. They are free to experiment, innovate and push the boundaries of small scale brewing.


The needs of the craft beer industry are unique and varied and we need to clearly understand how malt quality affects the different types of beers that craft brewers are producing. Most of the beers are produced without the use of adjuncts and therefore the levels of FAN, protein and amylolytic enzymes may need to be different from the malts used by the brewing giants making mainly lager style beers. Barley varieties with desirable quality attributes should be possible to select for by breeders using a wide range of germplasm available globally. The changes required are feasible but not straightforward 6 and as demand continues to increase, this approach may become more economically feasible.

The definition of malt flavour is complex and more difficult to define than other quality parameters such as protein and FAN. This presents a challenge to barley breeders, especially as brewers are divided on whether their base malts need to be more complex and malty or whether a lack of complexity can be compensated for using other speciality malts. Brewers in general prefer base malts that offer a point of difference for their customers, are more suited to adjunct free brewing and are not simply after highly fermentable, high extract clean flavoured varieties.

Maltsters that aim to supply the craft beer industry well into the future need to be prepared to provide barley varieties in demand by the craft industry and should be doing more to actively develop suitable varieties with their breeding partners. In addition to barley, cereals such as wheat and rye will play an integral role in future products. These must be available in a range of packages suitable to both small and large customers. Companies that offer a range of batch sizes across a wide geography will be well placed to remain competitive as the rise of the craft beer industry continues.


The authors would like to acknowledge the team at Cryer Malt, Dr. Dustin Herb at Oregon State University for his assistance and all the brewers who took the time to respond to our malt survey.


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  2. Stead, J. Exploring Beer Flavour, The Brewer, Sept. 1996
  3. Chandra, S. et al. Effect of Kilning on Malt Flavour, BRFI Quarterly, Oct. 1996
  4. The Most Famous Barley in the World – the Maris Otter Story, R. Appel. Brewer andDistiller Int. Vol 11, 6, 42-43.
  5. Herb, D. et al. Malt Modification and its Effects on the Contributions of Barley Genotype to Beer Flavor. J. Am. Soc. Brew. Chem. 75(4):354-362, 2017
  6. Herb, D. et al. Effects of Barley (hordeum vulgare L.) Variety and Growing Environment on Beer Flavor. J. Am. Soc. Brew. Chem. 75(4):345-353, 2017
  7. Wainwright, T. What’s so Special about Maris Otter, Brewers Guardian, 132, 10, 20- 21
  8. AIBA Catalogue of results 2008
  9. IBA presentation to NZ Brewers Guild August 2017
  10. Deloitte – Craft Beer in Australia, ANZ report 2014
  15. ANZ Industry Insights Report New Zealand Craft Beer 2017
  16. Palmer, J. How to Brew, 2006
  17. Malting Barley Characteristics for Craft Breweries, Brewers Association, _For_Craft_Brewers.pdf


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