A THIRSTY day it was in last November as WA's newest malting barley varieties were launched at the Swan Brewery before a throng of beer buffs (for that day, at least) who bustled up to the bar to sample the first drops of beer derived from the new grain.
It also marked a red-letter day for the WA Department of Agriculture's barley-breeding program.
Barley production is worth more than $300 million to WA, with two-thirds of that flowing from malting varieties.
The growing premium beer market could open doors for growers who supply premium matting barleys
A lot has happened in the last 10 years since WA's barley-breeding program was reviewed after locally grown varieties began to slip in the view of some international maltsters.
Responding to the challenge, the Department, the GRDC and the University of WA formed a fast-track barley-breeding program, which evolved into the Western Malting Barley Council and now comprises several research and commercial partners.
WA growers are set to reap the rewards of this initiative, with the release of 'probable' malting varieties Baudin and Hamelin. GRDC Winter Cereal Improvement Program Manager, Ross Gilmour, is a past member of the breeding team that delivered these varieties.
The two new varieties promise superior malting qualities and, between them, span all of WA's malting barley-growing regions, including the south coast, where Baudin's sprouting tolerance promises to help negate soggy finishes.
Besides agronomic, disease and pest considerations, new barleys must satisfy 35 other quality traits to qualify for malting, which have shackled barley breeders with more responsibilities than their wheat-breeding counterparts and generally slowed the release of new varieties.
These new varieties will retain their 'provisional malting' status for three years and must perform well with maltsters in at least two of them to be upgraded to full malting status, according to Reg Lance, Senior Plant Breeder with the Department.
Baudin and Hamelin could help WA supply a brewing industry recovering from the threat of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, which had muscled in on the WA beer market.
The myth that beer is not trendy is being dispelled by the growing premium market.
Of the 240 stubbies each West Australian drinks per year, almost 40 are premium beers, perhaps reflecting the emergence of a new trend, which could open broader and diverse markets for grain-growers who can supply new premium malting barleys.
Program 1 Contact: Dr Reg Lance 08 9368 3502 Dr Chengdao Li 08 9368 3843