Huntsville, Ala.- October 13, 2023- Consumers will now be able to purchase the first ever beer brewed from Alabama-grown barley malt thanks to a state-wide project. The collaboration included experts from HudsonAlpha, Auburn University, and Alabama A&M University, and met an exciting milestone today as Braided River Brewing Company in Mobile released a new beer containing barley malt sourced in Alabama.
“We brewed a fresh and floral pale ale, which we call Harvest Ale,” says David Nelson, brewmaster at Braided River. “The malt tastes great and is the same quality as any other malt we’ve ever used. Most of our malt is usually sourced from the Upper Midwest.”
Craft breweries are big business in the United States. According to the Brewer’s Association, more than 9,500 breweries were operating across the U.S. in 2022. Breweries in the eastern U.S. must import essential ingredients like barley and hops because they grow best in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
That might all change for breweries in Alabama, thanks to this Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs-funded project. It aims to help farmers grow barley in the state and form relationships with brewers and other stakeholders to buy it.
Led by HudsonAlpha faculty investigator Jeremy Schmutz, the project brought together a collaborative team of experts from HudsonAlpha (Dr. Josh Clevenger & Dr. Alex Harkess), Auburn (Dr. Wendiam Sawadgo), and Alabama A&M (Dr. Ernst Cebert & Dr. Xianyan Kuang). They planted more than 50 barley varieties at field stations across Alabama in the fall of 2021. The varieties that grew best were then planted in one of four larger field trials in the fall of 2022 at Martin Farms in Courtland, AL.
“We harvested 30,000 pounds of barley from an eight-acre field trial in north Alabama,” says barley project manager Kaitlyn Williams. “The barley developed well and had low disease and insect pressure. It met the protein levels and the toxicity levels required by the industry. We sent it to Riverbend Malting in Asheville, N.C., where they confirmed it met the malting standard and had a great color and germination rate. Everything fell into place to start distributing the malt.”
The local barley malt has piqued the interest of many southeastern breweries, with a growing waiting list, including breweries in Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile. The team at Braided River Brewing Company was excited to be one of the first breweries to brew a beer using Alabama-grown malt for various reasons.
“We certainly like to support our local economy,” says Nelson. “We also recognize that using in-state ingredients like HudsonAlpha’s barley lessens our environmental impact, which is very important to our company. Braided River was founded on the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, known as “American’s Amazon” for its biodiversity, and we take our duty to preserve this unique natural resource seriously. We hope to celebrate it and help preserve it—while connecting with each other over delicious beer—for generations to come.”
The Alabama barley benefits more than just craft breweries. It gives farmers a new crop to put into their yearly rotation. With barley, if farmers have equipment for wheat, which is a standard row crop here in Alabama, they already have what is approved for barley. It doesn’t add extra cost to farmer’s operations, and so far, the team is showing that yields are really good and the demand for barley is here in our state.
“It’s rewarding to see a local guy making local products for local folks,” says Williams. “The whole barley project gives back in many different ways. Everyone benefits from that local product, whether you’re enjoying a nice beer, profiting from the beer, or incorporating a new, lucrative crop into your farm’s rotation.”
If you’re in the Mobile area and want to give the Harvest Ale a try, we’ll give you one more reason. There is something even more unique about the Braided River Harvest Ale: it contains more local ingredients than the Alabama barley.
“Harvest Ale is extra special because it also incorporates Alabama-grown hops,” says Nelson. “The Cascade hops are experimental, too, as hops typically thrive in the Pacific Northwest. But these were grown a few miles from our brewery, at the Auburn University Ornamental Horticulture Research Center in Mobile.”
The research reported here was supported by the Alabama Research and Development Enhancement Fund under award number 1ARDEF22 04. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the State of Alabama.
About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving life around the globe through discovery, education, and economic development in the genomic sciences. HudsonAlpha’s mission is to develop and apply scientific advances to health, agriculture, education, and commercialization. The campus, located in Huntsville, includes nearly 50 biotech companies and consists of 152 acres located within Cummings Research Park, the second-largest research park in the nation. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit hudsonalpha.org.
About Braided River Brewing Company: Braided River makes flavorful craft beer designed to pair with the Gulf Coast lifestyle. We want beer that goes along no matter where the adventure takes us and doesn’t make us choose between great beer and drinkability. Our beer lineup takes inspiration from historical beers designed for a hot day and puts a modern spin on them – because just like the rivers we take our name from, we’re constantly in motion and forging new paths. We use our expertise to bring an innovative, quality-driven approach to all our beers without losing sight of the fact that craft beer should be fun and approachable.