Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.11.2005

Grass to glass nets fellowship

Photo of Dr Evan Evans

A quest to make better beer - and more of it - from Australian malting barley has led to Tasmanian Dr Evan Evans becoming the newest Fellow of the international Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD).

[Photo (left): Dr Evans with some samples of malts]

Dr Evans, a barley biochemist with the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Science (University of Tasmania), was recently honoured with an IBD fellowship for his "grass to glass" approach to improving the quality and efficiency of malt in brewing.

Supported by the GRDC, Dr Evans"s work has changed the brewing industry"s understanding of malt fermentability and quality by taking a whole-of-industry approach.

"Following the production process from growing to brewing has been critical in identifying the important malting and fermenting characteristics of our barley varieties," he says.

The project has been partly driven by technological advances in brewing. With greater reliance on computer-controlled brewing systems, Dr Evans says there is a crucial need for more consistency in malt fermentability, a fundamental quality of malting barley.

Maltsters and barley breeders assess malt fermentability by measuring the activity of the diastatic power group of enzymes, which convert barley starch into fermentable sugars. In Dr Evans"s most recent project, he found that analysis of the levels of individual enzymes - rather than their combined activity as in the diastatic power test - substantially increased the ability to predict malt performance in the brewing process.

This result is significant because the diastatic power test can pick up only about half of the fermentability variations, whereas Dr Evans"s testing - measuring the balance between the enzymes - increases the prediction accuracy to 90 per cent. It has strong implications for growers, breeders and marketers as well as the brewing industry.

Dr Evans found significant variation in the fermentability characteristics within barley varieties. GairdnerPlant Breeder Rights icon, for example, can produce malt at both the high and low ends of the scale. While brewers in China and Japan are looking for highly fermentable malt, Australian brewers - who use more than a third of Australia"s malting barley production - prefer lower fermentable malt.

Dr Evans would like these enzyme tests initially used to identify the malt from existing barley varieties most suited to various markets, but that is just the start. He wants to develop "malting packages" that enable brewers to take advantage of different malting attributes of Australian malting barley.

"Breeders would also be able to more accurately select the enzyme qualities our customers are demanding," he says. "This requires continued close cooperation with maltsters and marketers in developing support structures for the introduction of these new varieties to international customers.

"This has been the key to the already substantial success of Australia"s barley industry, which over the last decade has been fostered by GRDC support.

"I see a great future for it. The research spending is good and we have some really good varieties like Flagship on the cusp of release. We"ve lifted the quality to the world benchmark and we can extend this even further. Overseas researchers want to emulate what we have.

"We"ve also got excellent opportunities for growth, particularly with our proximity to Asia, where beer consumption is increasing."

Dr Evans says, however, the quality will need to be paramount. "Domestic and overseas brewers will be looking for greater technical support from maltsters and marketers. We can"t afford to rest on our laurels."

GRDC Research Code UT00006
For more information: Dr Evan Evans, 03 6226 2638, eevans@postoffice.utas.edu.au

Plant Breeder Rights icon Varieties displaying this symbol beside them are protected under the Plant Breeders Rights Act 1994.