Friday 12 April 2013

Historic barley revived for CAMRA weekend

Chevallier grains

British plant geneticists have revived a Victorian barley variety, and used it to brew a "heritage special bitter". The barley, called Chevallier, was revived from seed in the genetic resources unit of the Norwich-based plant research institute, the John InnesCentre. JIC scientists collaborated with Sunderland University's Brewlab to evaluate Chevallier - apparently it has "valuable disease resistance that can prevent contamination of grain with mycotoxins, which are a concern in the malting industry."

The historic brew
They went on to grow half an acre of the grain, which was floor-malted by Norfolk's Crisp Malting Group and then sent to Stumptail Brewery who turned it into a 4.7% nut-brown ale with "a rich malty flavour and a lasting bitter finish." The ale is being launched next Friday in Norwich, to celebrate the start of CAMRA's annual member's weekend in the city.

Old varieties are a rich source of new genes, and the JIC scientists revived Chevallier as part of a barley improvement project, said crop geneticist Dr Chris Ridout who lead the project. Historic records indicate that the variety produced premium quality malt and good yields.

"We wanted to find out how the variety performed, what the malt was like and how the beer tasted,” he said. He has now registered Chevallier as a conservation variety, and received a £250,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC) to explore its commercial potential.

Sadly I can't get to the CAMRA AGM, but maybe I will get a chance to catch up with this beer later. It's certainly a fascinating project - I think John Keeling of Fuller's said that when they started doing historic recreations, the closest they could get was a barley variety from the 1920s. The JIC work potentially takes us right back to the Victorian heyday of Porter.

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