WITH a strong beer drinking tradition and vibrant real ale and craft beer industries complementing the mainstream brewing sector, along with a booming whisky market, malt barley is big business in the United Kingdom.
Data from the Maltsters’ Association of Great Britain (MAGB) shows the UK uses nearly two million tonnes of malt barley each year. This compares to average malt production in Australia of 2.4 to 3 million tonnes.
Claire Strachan, of Simpson’s Malt, said malt for distillers was the major market segment.
“The whisky industry is really important and continues to grow,” she said.
While mainstream brewing is feeling the impacts of lower overall beer consumption, similar to Australia, the real ale and craft brewing sectors are also performing strongly.
Barley production in the United Kingdom is centred on three major areas, Scotland, northern England and southern and eastern England.
Due to freight advantages, barley from Scotland and Northumbria in northern English is the first choice for the whisky industry.
Ms Strachan said the different types of malt required for whisky production and for different styles of beer meant there was a wide range of malt products created in the UK.
There is also a diverse selection of barley varieties grown although the most popular five lines account for a large majority of total tonnage.
The maltsters assist their suppliers by putting out requests for either winter or spring barley with a range of nitrogen levels ranging from under 1.55 per cent to above 1.85pc.
The nitrogen level is a similar measurement of end use performance to protein levels in Australia, with protein levels roughly 6.25 times nitrogen rates, so a nitrogen level of 1.6pc would equal a standard Australian barley protein reading of 10pc.
In southern England there is more demand for winter type barley, while in Scotland, where distilling is the major market for malt, maltsters have a preference for lower nitrogen spring barley lines.
Another critical quality trait is low glycosidic nitrile (GN) varieties.
GN is a compound that can be potentially harmful when it is distilled, meaning the whisky industry does not want varieties with high GN levels.
The Concerto variety is a clear market leader in the UK, with the spring sown line accounting for 54pc of total British spring barley plantings according to the MAGB, while Venture is the most widely grown winter cultivar.
- Gregor Heard travelled to the UK as a guest of Syngenta.