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HudsonAlpha, A&M, Auburn brewing up first beer with Alabama barley

HUNTSVILLE – HudsonAlpha is a nonprofit organization that describes its goal as being dedicated to improving life around the globe through discovery, education, and economic development in the genomic sciences. 

Its mission statement is to develop and apply scientific advances to health, agriculture, education and commercialization.

With that in mind, beer lovers with a taste for craft products produced in Alabama can finally say “mission accomplished.’’

Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology collaborated with Auburn University and Alabama A&M to help farmers throughout the state grow barley, which has been used by Braided River Brewing Co. in Mobile to produce Harvest Ale.

“We brewed a fresh and floral pale ale, which we call Harvest Ale,” David Nelson, brewmaster at Braided River, said in a press release. “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 Brewers Association, more than 9,500 breweries were operating across the U.S. in 2022. Breweries in the eastern U.S. must import essential ingredients such as barley and hops because they grow best in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

That might  change for statewide breweries with this recent project funded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. It aims to help farmers grow barley in the state and form relationships with brewers and other stakeholders to buy it. 

Led by Jeremy Schmutz, faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, the project brought together a collaborative team of experts from HudsonAlpha (Dr. Josh Clevenger and Dr. Alex Harkess), Auburn (Dr. Wendiam Sawadgo), and Alabama A&M (Dr. Ernst Cebert and 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.

“We harvested 30,000 pounds of barley from an eight-acre field trial in north Alabama,” barley project manager Kaitlyn Williams said. “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 Alabama barley benefits more than just craft breweries. It gives farmers a new crop to put into their yearly rotation, and lessens the environmental impact by using in-state barley.

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