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Modern Methods Examined for Beer from Victorian Barley

Grains of Chevallier barley (John Innes Center)

Grains of Chevallier barley (John Innes Center)

Researchers at the John Innes Center, a plant science research institute in Norwich, U.K., are investigating the commercial potential of brewing beer from Chevallier, a classic variety of barley grown during Britain’s Victorian era in the second half of the 19th century. A grant of £250,000 ($US 384,000) from the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council will fund the work of plant geneticist Chris Ridout and his team at John Innes Center.

Ridout revived Chevallier (pictured right) from a seed bank at John Innes Center, and analyzed the variety with colleagues from Brewlab, an industry testing and training institute, and University of Sunderland. Their initial analysis showed Chevallier had a natural resistance to diseases, including mycotoxins, a type of mold toxic to humans and animals.

After growing a half-acre of Chevallier last year, Ridout and colleagues asked industry partners to convert the barley to malt, which was then fermented into beer. “We found that we brought back to life a distinctive malty flavor suited to certain types of beer, such as Porter and India Pale Ale, which were popular in the Victorian period,” says Ridout.

The new project will examine the economic feasibility of brewing beer from Chevallier and similar barleys recreated from heritage varieties. “We are now performing genetic analyses,” notes Ridout, “which will help us understand how valuable traits such as disease resistance, malting quality, and nitrogen use are inherited.”

Chevallier is being grown with organic methods at the Gressenhall Museum of Rural Life in Norfolk, U.K. Another Chevallier crop will be grown in Morley, U.K. using modern methods including the use of fungicides and nitrogen fertilizer. The researchers plan to study yields and malt quality from the two crops.

Beginning on 19 April, a special ale from Chevallier brewed by Stumptail Brewery will be sold at a pub in Norwich.

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