Barley for Distilling Webinar

The Northern Crops Institute (NCI) held their Cereal Innovators webinar on May 11, 2022. This hour-long webinar featured Matt Drew, Head Distiller for the Montana Whiskey Company, Marketing Consultant with the Escotte Group, and Host/Founder of the American Whiskey Podcast, Single Malt Matters, who presented on Barley and Malt Applications and Considerations in Whiskey Production.

Drew began by discussing the assumptions and recap on what barley is. He explained how barley in American whiskey production is evolving and changing from its traditional role. Some producers are wanting to breakaway from the traditional commodity marketplace and explore new options. As Drew stated, that’s when innovation happens. One example of innovation he explained is how raw barley (unmalted and roasted) is used to create the Irish whiskey flavor that American distillers are working to replicate.

Whiskey is currently ranked number 2 in American distilling, and as Drew showed, it will only increase in popularity. He then jumped into the single malt whiskey discussion, and explained how there is not a set standard of identity for single malt in the U.S. like other countries around the world have. Japan, India, Great Britain, France, Taiwan, Argentina, and the U.S. are all creating amazing spirits with new whiskey trends. Drew explained how while the market is growing and innovation is happening, single malt whiskey is still relatively new to the U.S.. McCarthy’s was the first single malt whiskey brand to be produced and sold in the U.S., and was created in 1989 with the first bottling starting in 1993.

Drew went on to show comparisons between various whiskey practices and standards. He began with differences between distiller’s and brewer’s malt. Distiller’s malt allows a higher moisture and protein content than brewers. Drew also touched on glycosidic nitrile (GN), as American single malt whiskey is changing the conversation and use of GN. GN is found in whiskey, however, at high levels is considered a carcinogen and can be dangerous. While GN levels are regulated in other countries, the US currently does not have any standards for GN in whiskey and Drew explained how he was unsure of what that would look like in the US.

As mentioned earlier, whiskey innovation is happening and being talked about. One opportunity for innovation Drew mentioned is with Scottish malt. Flavor is a huge topic with innovation in whiskey. With Scottish whiskey, the malt does not contribute to the flavor and instead comes from a lot of other processing variations that go into the distilling process. However with American whiskey, malt is a major contributor to the flavor. 

“It’s really an important time, in terms of the evolution of barley and malt’s role in distilling,” said Drew during his presentation.

To view Matt Drew’s full recorded presentation, click here.