Maryland Barley Makes First Debut in a Century

Barley, water, yeast and hops are the four primary ingredients of all beers. For a significant number of brewers (craft brewers and larger breweries), those ingredients are not available locally. For instance, Maryland brewers have had to rely on barley shipped in from other states, from Canada or from other parts of the world. That is changing though. For the first time in a century, locally grown Maryland barley is being used to produce commercial beers.

So far only one type of beer is being produced using local barely, Amber Fields Best Bitter, but this brew uses a distinctive method to produce a classic flavor. The barley is grown and malted locally and then dried before being used. The drying process gives the beer a lot of interesting flavor. It has been a long road to get to this position though.

Plot testing, pilot brewing and trial malting runs took an entire decade for the partners to arrive at the best growing, malting and drying methods for the specialty brew, but success has come at last. One of the most impressive achievements here (other than a great tasting beer) is the fact that it gives local brewers almost complete control over their product. With locally grown and malted barley, the brewery is able to “develop flavor straight from the field.” The barley is grown on a dairy farm owned by Greg Clabaugh that dates from the early 1800s and represents value-added agricultural practices. The declining value of milk per pound (for dairy farmers, not consumers) made it vital that another route be found to generate revenue and growing barley was the perfect combination.

Another important factor with this new partnership is that it is more sustainable. Locally grown, malted and dried barley is a more sustainable ingredient than purchasing barley from Canada. It also helps with “green” concerns such as the effects of shipping barley from around the world and ensures that Maryland’s fields remain productive. 

The beer is flavored with British hops, though other developments (the emerging hops growth in New York, for instance) might change this down the road. If that occurs, then the beer will truly be a sustainable product made almost entirely with locally sourced ingredients. The benefit to the entire community is profound as it impacts agriculture, brewers and consumers throughout the entire state. Currently, Amber Fields Best Bitter is only available locally but expanded distribution is a distinct possibility in the coming years.

Posted on May 25, 2011 .