Everyone loves a good vintage. The 2018-19 barley harvest here in Canterbury is proving to be the best vintage ever. A cool wet spring and temperate early summer followed by hot dry conditions over the last few weeks has proved ideal for our 150 or so grower suppliers throughout the South Island who are harvesting a bumper crop. It certainly makes our job as malsters a lot easier when it comes to producing high-quality malt. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sour’s ear!
At Gladfield like the rest of our grower suppliers, we are flat out harvesting our barley crop too. It is always an exciting but also nervous time. Unless you have been brought up in the farming game it is hard to comprehend why you would do it when at any minute you can lose a whole year’s work to mother nature.
The best way to explain it to people outside the industry is to imagine your boss paying you your wages in five-dollar notes which he hangs on the clothes line at the end of each day and you aren’t allowed to get your hands on them until the end of the year. You can only look at them all year long. You are definitely not allowed to pick up any that get blown or washed off the line and if the clothes line gets hit by a thunderstorm a day before the end of the year then bad luck… but don’t worry there is always next year!
We farmers just like most craft brewers are eternal optimists and compulsive gamblers but without us the pubs would go dry!
Cheers to the Gambler!
What makes a good vintage?
The right weather conditions at the right time influence the quality of the grain. Cool temperatures with ample moisture during spring help create healthy plants which sets everything up for good flowering and pollination. This leads to the formation of healthy embryos especially when there is an absence of rain or humid conditions during flower set which reduces the risk of “black point”, a fungal disease which increases high polyphenol levels in beer. (especially if you over sparge or your pH is incorrect).
Ample sun shine during grain fill is essential for the development of large starch granules and the correct ratio of protein/ carbohydrates and minerals leading to high extracts. Moisture stress at this time can lead to high protein levels and high beta-glucan which causes beer haze, filtering and lautering issues. It also reduces the extract potential and gives reduced efficiencies. Malts made from high protein barley are steely and hard with low friability requiring you to close the gap in your mill.
Too much moisture and humidity after grain fill and during ripening causes fungal development such as Fusarium (which causes gushing beer) and the development of micro toxins which cause off flavours and tainting and can be toxic in large amounts.
Sudden temperature changes and heavy rain fall during grain fill can cause growth splits of the kernel which leads to rotten mushy grains during the malting process which gives rotten/sour flavoured malts.
Rainfall after ripening and before harvesting can cause sprouting this can cause very inconsistent malt with low friability and high whole grain or partially modified grains.
Bright sunshine and dry conditions during grain ripening and harvesting creates clean bright grains which reduces the level of polyphenols in the beer and gives clean flavours with a bright colour.
Gladfield Malt director and head malster.