Laura Helgerson, the Oregon State University faculty research assistant who oversees the barley plants in the greenhouse and the field, examines a 2-row barley strain that’s getting close to harvest stage. Photos by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The barley research at Oregon State University is attracting worldwide and local attention from brewers, researchers and scientific institutions.
Department head Pat Hayes suggested two women researchers as subjects for this issue.
Tanya Filichkin heads up the tissue lab that pioneered the double haploid genetic process for barley about two years ago. A 15-year veteran of the department from Russia, Filichkin patiently explained the entire process to me, step-by-step. Although I generally understood it, I would not pretend to be an expert when explaining it.
The process, which uses spores from barley tillers to grow green regenerates in lab cultures, cuts the time to breed a pure barley line from 12 years or more to one or two. Significantly, Filichkin and her assistants are not manipulating genes or doing any genetic modification to develop this pure line. “We’re using natural processes,” she said.
“We collaborate with many industries. Our main goal in the lab right now is to get a pure line for malting quality.”
One of their clients is Anheuser-Busch. The mega-brewery tried unsuccessfully to produce its own double haploids. Now they have a contract with OSU to buy 1,000 plants for $19 each. Filichkin said OSU has customers from around the globe, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and several universities.
Laura Helgerson oversees the barley greenhouse and cares for the experimental plants, both indoors and in the fields. She started as a temporary worker three years ago after graduating with a degree in environmental studies. Soon she was a full-time, permanent faculty research assistant.
She said that the industry standard has changed from 6-row to 2-row barley, partly because that’s what brewers want. Craft brewers, especially those in the Northwest, are interested in having a locally grown and malted barley to complement the local hops for a true Northwest beer. Great Western in Vancouver has been the only malting name in town until recently. Now there are three craft malting operations.
Tanya Filichkin, the head of the barley tissue lab at Oregon State University, holds a cultured container of rooting plantlets. The OSU barley research group pioneered the genetic process of producing double haploids out of anther culture, reducing the time to develop pure lines from 12 years to two.
Seth Klann has been growing one of OSU’s barley varieties called Full Pint. His family runs a large farm outside of Madras in Central Oregon. Klann malts their barley under the Mecca Grade Estate malt name.
Tom Hutchison, out of Baker City, owns Gold Rush Malt. He contracts with a local farmer to grow Full Pint barley.
And Rogue Brewing is leasing a 200-acre barley farm in the Tygh Valley. Rogue is growing winter and spring malting barley and has trademarked the varieties as Dare and Risk. Rogue has used both types for brewing and distilling. Other Northwest craft malting operations are in development.
Does barley matter for beer flavor? That’s one of the main questions OSU’s barley researchers are seeking to answer. One of the school’s grad students is currently involved in a flavor project. Besides breeding barley for flavors specifically requested by craft and microbrewers, other desirable traits include cold tolerance and disease resistance.
As craft brewing continues to grow, barley production is rising in Oregon to meet the increasing demand for local ingredients. With the influx of some new funding, OSU will soon have a lab for malting small, experimental varieties.
The recent FDA approval of barley as a healthy, outstanding source of fiber with a unique profile that fights cholesterol has opened up a whole new line of interest in the grain that was once primarily grown as feed for livestock, said Filichkin.
To keep up with all the OSU research activity, follow them on http://barleyworld.org.