Friday, 5 June 2015

Brewing in the 1950’s – new British barley varieties

This time we’re looking at new barley varieties being developed in the 1950’s.

Interestingly, they mostly seem to have been crosses between British and Scandinavian varieties.

“The aim in producing newer varieties is to combine the good malting qualities of the older varieties with advantages, such as stiffer stem, higher yields and freedom from disease which commend them to the grower. Scandinavian varieties have advantages in this respect, particularly in giving higher yields. The best known of these are Kenia, Maja, Freja, Ytner, Herta, and Rika. They have not in themselves the qualities required for British malting barley, but crosses between some of them and British barleys have been found to combine the advantages of both (that is suitable malting quality with higher yields and shorter or stiffer straw) and are now being used to a considerable extent. The most important of these British/Scandinavian hybrids are:

Proctor, from Plumage-Archer and Kenia, a good malting barley giving high yields and becoming increasingly popular.

Pioneer, from Spratt-Archer and a Scandinavian variety. It is winter hardy and early ripening. It tends to be low in nitrogen.

Carlsberg, from an Archer variety and Maja, giving good yields.

Beorna, developed in Ireland from Spratt-Archer and Kenia. It is being extensively grown in that country and is replacing Spratt-Archer there. It gives 10% higher yield with almost equal malting quality.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 130.

One of the things the plant breeders at John Innes mentioned was that older varieties like Chevallier grew much taller than modern varieties. This mad them much more likely to fall over in bad weather, something which could bugger up the crop.

Proctor I’ve heard of before. So I guess that must have hung around for a while. Obviously, none of the varieties are currently commercially grown. The oldest one currently still being planted in any quantities is Maris Otter, which is 50 this year.

In a huge coincidence, I just stumbled across this reference a couple of days ago:

It’s in a brewing record for Whitbread Stout from June 1964*.  It looks like it’s probably the first time they used malt made from this type of barley because it’s in red ink. How fitting that they should have made mild malt from the Carlsberg barley.

Very little foreign malting barley was coming into the country:

“As already mentioned, foreign barleys have not been imported into this country to any extent since 1939. The only two-rowed foreign barleys used to any extent before the war were Australian and Chilean Chevallier. Both are thin skinned; the former being of a primrose colour when ripe, the latter rather paler. The Australian type was usually rather smaller in size than the British varieties. Malts made from them were blended for use with British malts. There does not appear to be much likelihood that they will be available to such an extent in this country for some time to come.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 130 - 131.

Surprising that the only places foreign barley was being sourced were the most distant possible: Australia and Chile. How did that make economic sense?

More on foreign barleys next.

* Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives document number LMA/4453/D/09/133.


BryanB said...

Could the Australian and Chilean supplies be because they're southern hemisphere? Presumably they ripened 6 months out of synch with European barleys - would that allow the maltsters a more even working pattern through the year?

Anonymous said...

This article
suggests that "Australian Chevalier" has its origins in British Chevalier barley which became known as "Prior's Chevalier"

Ron Pattinson said...


that's a good thought. It makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Looks like here in the states, Chevallier will be available to pro brewers in the near future. I'm hoping the maltster will be willing to let me try out a bag for some historical home brewing recipes.

Martyn Cornell said...

Should be Chevallier, two Ls, of course.

Ron Pattinson said...


I discovered in January than the spelling has been inconsistent over the years. Mr. Chevallier spelled his name with two l's, but the barley variety sometimes only had one.