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The craft of beer – reviving old barley for modern brewers

Copyright: Tama Leaver on Flickr by CC 2.0

Brewers in the UK and US are using a heritage barley variety called ‘Chevallier’ grown by BBSRC-funded researchers at the John Innes Centre (JIC) to create unique craft beers.

Seeds from the barley, last grown commercially in the UK in the 1930s, were preserved at the JIC Germplasm Resources Unit, a National Capability that receives strategic funding from BBSRC, which holds the seeds (or ‘germplasm’) from thousands of small grain cereal varieties. This enables plant scientists and breeders to protect and capitalise on unique and valuable genetic crop resources.

BBSRC funding enabled Dr Chris Ridout and Dr Sarah de Vos at JIC to scale-up production of Chevallier barley and establish start-up company New Heritage Barley Ltd. The company, run by de Vos, has an agreement in place with global malt distributors Crisp Malting Group to market malt from the Chevallier barley to brewers.

Data breakout

1000 Bottles of Govinda ‘Chevallier Edition’ produced using 1830s recipe and methods
1413 Number of UK breweries in 2015, up from 1092 in 2013
12.8% Increase in craft beer sales in the US in 2015

The JIC researchers also found that Chevallier barley is resistant to a costly fungal disease of barley known as Fusarium, which reduces yield and grain quality by producing fungal toxins that cause health problems in people and animals. They are now working with colleagues in the US and Canada to produce new barley varieties that can be grown on the humid East Coast of America, where Fusarium is a major problem.

“Our story has been presented to the European Commission in Brussels as a case study of how germplasm resources can have an impact,” says Ridout. “It’s a model other people can use for other genetic resources.”

The research was supported by a BBSRC public engagement grant, CASE studentship, Follow-on Funding, US and Canada Partnering Awards, and a BBSRC/Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship, as well as core strategic funding to JIC.

Read the full impact evidence report:

Header image copyright: Tama Leaver on Flickr by CC 2.0