Lowe Barley Review

So I've been bugging Matt Hamill from Red Shed Malting for a couple of years now to develop a new malt variety that is geared toward all-malt brewers rather than adjunct brewers. For those who don't know, you can read my rantings here and give Joe Hertrich a listen at the Master Brewers Podcast.

For those who are lazy, there are a couple of things that are less than ideal with all-malt brewing and North American 2-row, namely:

  • Diastatic power is too damn high. This means you need to mash hot and short or you end up with an overly dry, thin beer. If you can't do mashout temperatures (which some smaller commercial brewers can't) this leads to a really unpredictable attenuation rate.
  • FAN is also too damn high. FAN is not an issue for all-malt brewers, but it is for adjunct brewers. Too much FAN resists pH change in the fermenter and can lead to shelf stability issues. 

In addition, there are other issues that arise when you mash short and hot to compensate for overcharged diastatic power. I won't get into them here, but adjusting the whole system is not without its drawbacks. 

The brewer who doesn't wish to compromise will import malt from Europe, which has maximum values for FAN and diastatic power. That can get expensive and so there are smaller malting companies in the U.S. that grow European varieties. There are, of course, issues with this as well, namely flavour. 

I, for one, am not opposed to flavour- throw an Ed Hardy shirt on me and give me frosted tips. But there are some who prefer the very neutral flavour that North American malt gives for that characteristic "American-ness". It's out of the way and allows other ingredients (meaning hops) to shine. This means that we need a North American style barley with European mashing characteristics. The thing is this used to exist until adjunct lager brewers dominated the market and changed 2-row to be more like 6-row. 

There's also a thing called the CMBTC that recommends which malting barley varieties to grow. This has a huge effect on what you can buy because you need to convince farmers to grow the crop first before you can malt it. The largest purchaser by far is still the adjunct brewers, though they are slowly starting to come around to at least acknowledge the different needs of the craft beer sector. 

Anyway, Matt came by and dropped off a sack of the new variety that he'd been working on called Lowe. It's lower protein than the previous "low protein" variety, Synergy, which had made some waves in craft beer circles, though still higher in protein than, say, a pale ale malt you might find in Britain. This new variety is much closer to that European style pale ale malt without the excess flavour. That said, there's still some grassiness in the Single Infusion Malt steep test, similar to Maris Otter, though not the same intensity. With Maris Otter, that grassiness turns into the characteristic nuttiness after boiling. Lowe's grassiness seems to disappear completely. 

So, if you're looking for an ale malt that will perform simliarly to Maris Otter, Golden Promise or other British Pale malt in the brewhouse, but leave you with a characteristic American neutral flavour profile, keep your eyes out for Lowe which should be hitting the market in the near future.