The crop, which is about to enter its final stages of tests before being approved for use in the food and beverage industry, would be the first winter malting barley to be grown in the US and Canada.
Named 'Charles,' the barely was developed by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), in collaboration with the University of Idaho.
In preliminary planting tests the variety, which is designed for use primarily in the brewing industry but also in certain food products such as cereals and chocolate truffles, produced "impressive quantities of plump, heavy kernels."
Developed through crossing genes from a winter barley line and a spring malting type, ARS plant geneticist Donald Obert and his team say 'Charles' brings the agronomic qualities of winter barleys to a malting barley- which is normally a spring crop.
Winter barleys, usually planted around October and harvested in mid-July, offer certain advantages over spring barleys, which are generally planted in May and harvested in August, explain the scientists.
"The fall planting gives the winter varieties a chance to germinate and grow before going into winter dormancy. In spring, the plants are bigger and stronger than spring-planted barleys, which are just beginning to sprout from seed," they said.
According to Obert, 'Charles' is the first winter malting barley in the US to pass the quality profile tests demanded by the brewing industry.
It also offers certain advantages over spring types, he said.
"The protein is winter barley types is easier to control, as you avoid some of the summer heat stress that typically occurs, and that also makes kernels thinner," Obert told FoodNavgator-USA.com.
And a winter malting barley would also result in a more stable supply for the industry, avoiding the risk of harvesting the entire crop at the same time in the event of exceptional damaging weather conditions.
According to Obert, several of the nation's major brewing companies have already shown a keen interest in the barley variety, which is currently undergoing plant-scale tests.
Indeed, the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA), the nation's trade association of malting and brewing companies, says it is "rather excited" about the progress of 'Charles.'
"It has had good quality in pilot tests so far. We are satisfied that it has good malting quality. Now we have to find out how it performs in the brewery and in large-scale malting," said AMBA vice president and technical director Scott Heisel, adding that the tests would also reveal the variety's flavor and processing performances.
"I don't think this will ever replace spring barley, but it will offer a different option, and the industry will certainly be in better shape with supplies," he said.