Wednesday, December 15, 2010

OSU to Build Experimental Malter

Via John Foyston I learn of the OSU Fermentation Science's plan to build an experimental malter.  Here is an excerpt from the press release as quoted by Foyston:

Drink a beer brewed in the United States, and there's a good chance the hops you'll taste were grown in Oregon. But chances are the malted barley in it wasn't.

Oregon State University is working to change that. Students there have designed and will build a malting unit that could soak, germinate and dry small batches of the grain as part of OSU's larger effort to create a market for barley grown in Oregon. The malter will become part of OSU's existing research brewery; researchers and companies can pay to use the machine to test new barley varieties or malting techniques.

Last year, Oregon farmers sold $6.8 million of barley harvested on 31,400 acres, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. But Oregon barley rarely makes it into beer because there is little data on its suitability as malts, said Pat Hayes, an OSU professor and barley breeder.

To gather that data, Hayes said, you need a malter. But commercial malters are too big, he pointed out. Their typical run is about 300,000 pounds of barley, producing about 175,000 gallons of beer, which is too much for research purposes.

OSU's brewery, which companies contract to produce experimental batches, requires only about 200 pounds of barley to produce 100 gallons of beer, Hayes said. The brewery uses barley that has already been malted because it hasn’t had a malter. The university can't buy one because the machines on the market are too large for OSU's needs, Hayes said. So he and his colleagues asked three senior OSU engineering students to design and build a mini-malter capable of processing up to 300 pounds of barley.

"This equipment will remove the malting bottleneck and get Oregon grain flowing to Oregon glasses," Hayes said.

OSU professor and fermentation scientist Tom Shellhammer added, "We could conceivably produce enough malt for a small microbrewery to experiment with."

The students will build the machine during winter term and test it in the spring. When finished, the portable unit will weigh about 1,000 pounds, measure about 4 feet wide and 6 feet long, and stand about 5 feet high. The students are recording their progress . Great Western Malting Co., a commercial malter in Vancouver, Wash., is providing technical assistance.

Hayes hopes to brew the first beer from on-site malted barley by June, just in time for the North American Barley Researchers Workshop, which will convene on campus from June 6-8.

This is cool. Given the amazing things going on at OSU around the science of beer (especially in hops breeding) it is surprising to me that OSU is not more intimately involved with the commercial beer industry in Oregon. I happen to know that there are folks around who would love to integrate the business of beer and the science of beer on campus and create a commercial brewery in so doing. I also hear that there are significant bureaucratic obstacles to this. But if they did, I think they could become the place for would-be brewers. My brother is a graduate of UC-Davis' program but they are all about the science and not the business. I think these days the goal of most folks who want to brew is to one day own their own business so a program that taught both sides could be very valuable (and profitable - to speak the language of the 21st century state university).

Just sayin'.

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