Beer With A Truly Homegrown Flavor

Beer With A Truly Homegrown Flavor

Brau Brothers is experimenting with removing malt from beer and adding Minnesota-grown grain instead.

Breweries are springing up all over Minnesota (11 of the 250 American breweries to open since 2011 are in the state), each offering a variety of unique brews, but they all rely on the same supply of an essential ingredient: malt—barley that has been soaked, dried, and heated so its starches turn into simple sugar ready to ferment.

Malting barley is a complicated process, and there are only a handful of maltsters worldwide, says Dustin Brau, CEO and head brewer at Lucan, Minnesota-based Brau Brothers Brewing. Breweries then buy from a limited number of malt brokers, who ramp up prices.

But Denmark-based Novozymes has developed an enzyme called Ondea Pro that brewers can add to raw grains, bypassing malting. The grains are mashed into sugar, which the yeast feeds on during fermentation, and beer is formed. Novozymes claims the process requires at least 7 percent less raw barley. It says bypassing malting reduces the carbon footprint of beer production by 8 percent, as soaking, heating, and drying is energy- and water-intensive.

Last summer, the company helped Brau Brothers brew a test batch of about 150 cases of a Czech-style pilsner called Bohemian Soup.

“If I hadn’t told you it was made with raw barley, you’d never know,” Brau says. “The only difference was that there was a really nice foam on the beer and it lasted quite a while. That’s a good sign of quality.”

The barley came from Brau Brothers’ backyard, where the brewery grows a small amount. What intrigues Brau about raw barley beer is being able to brew with grains that reflect characteristics specific to the state, in the way vintners make a region-specific wine. One obstacle: Not much barley is grown in Minnesota.

Brau spends about $30 per bushel on malt, including shipping. He says local grain would cut shipping costs, resulting in lower production costs. (Novozymes would not disclose what it charges for Ondea Pro.)

Brau is making another test batch this summer—a bock lager to be available on tap in Lucan-area bars.

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