Developing Malt Barley Varieties For Craft Beers with Kevin Murphy & Graham Lilly

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Show Notes & Resources Mentioned:

Contact Information:

Contact Kevin Murphey, WSU Barley Breeder, by phone at 509-335-9692 or by email at

Contact the Hunga Dunga through the Hunga Dunga contact page.

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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello, and welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. We have weekly discussions with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. And leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guests today are Kevin Murphy and Graham Lilly. Kevin is the barley and alternative crop breeder in the department of crop and soil sciences. His barley breeding program focuses on the development of spring barley varieties in the food, feed, and malt market classes. Today he will be talking about his malt barley breeding program and his barley variety line, which is now being grown, malted, and brewed in the plus. Graham is a microbiologist and the owner of Hunga Dunga Brewing Company in Moscow, Idaho. Hello, Kevin.

Kevin Murphy: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: Hello, Graham.

Graham Lilly: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So Kevin, let’s start with you. What is the current state of malt barley breeding at WSU?

Kevin Murphy: Okay Drew, our malt barley program is our number one priority among all market classes of barley. And as a result, we have a new barley variety called Lyon, which we can talk about a little more later. But we also have five or six advanced breeding lines that have been in the WSU Variety Testing Program for the last two to three years. And we’re very excited about those, those have a lot of new characteristics and particular flavor. And then other great malting characteristics too as well as good ergonomic characteristics. So if they do well again in 2018, we’re on track to release one or perhaps two new malting barley varieties for the plus.

Drew Lyon: Okay, and malting barley is kind of a new focus because we’ve been kind of feed barley, haven’t we in the past?

Kevin Murphy: Washington State is 90% feed barley. And when I started about seven, eight years ago, we didn’t have a malt barley breeding program. So we had to start again from scratch. And so we do focus on malt barley because of the price premium that growers can get or receive for growing malt barley. And also because of the large scale interest in microbrews and micromalting that we have in Washington state.

Drew Lyon: There might be one or two people interested in beer in the state.

Kevin Murphy: There might be.

Drew Lyon: Okay. What can you tell us about the agronomic characteristics of Lyon barley? I like to think that Lyon barley’s named after me. But of course, I know that’s not true. But what can you tell us about this variety?

Kevin Murphy: The Lyon 2.0 we’ll name after you.

Drew Lyon: [ Laughter ] Okay, that’s a deal.

Kevin Murphy: But this variety is named after Steve Lyon who is a long-term technician at Washington State and is in Steve Jones’s program in western Washington now. And so we, Lyon barley is a progeny of a cross we made ten years ago or so between Baroness barley and Spalding. Baroness is a European variety that has been malted and brewed locally. And Spalding is a north Idaho variety that does really well under rain fed conditions. And many growers have grown Baroness, so they know it well. And so Lyon takes the characteristics of both of those and combines them in a really nice way to create a new flavor that we’ve never had before. And also it yields quite well in comparison to Copeland, for example. Copeland is our number one barley variety in Washington state. And Lyon yields about 400 pounds more per acre consistently over five years than Copeland. So. Anywhere, intermediate, high rainfall zone, Lyon does extremely well. Both for growers and maltsters and brewers. And one more thing, we do focus on many malt characteristics but the brewers association several years ago put together a survey and they found that flavor was the number one characteristic that brewers wanted breeders to focus on. And so that’s why we’re really concentrating on developing new flavors in our new barley varieties.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so these different varieties all have a little different flavor characteristic, then?

Kevin Murphy: Yes, and you’ll have to try them soon.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Well that brings us to Graham. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you do at Hunga Dunga Brewery in Moscow, Idaho and then we’ll talk a little bit about how you use Lyon in your process there.

Graham Lilly: Yeah. So we opened about two years ago. And we, you know, I develop and come up with all the recipes that we use. And the Lyon barley was something, kind of a new opportunity that we hadn’t had previously working with not only a new variety of malt but also when that was grown locally and malted locally and so that was something that we were really interested in. And the flavor affects that the Lyon is giving our oatmeal pale ale is really interesting and much better than you know, the typical two rower pale malt that Kevin was talking about. The Copeland. It’s a lot more complex and a richer mouth feel and a fuller body than you’d find in your typical pale malt.

Drew Lyon: Okay that creates a question in my mind. How do you know this? Do you get a sample sent to you or how do you know whether a barley variety is something you want to work with or not?

Graham Lilly: Yeah, so it was really fortunate. Some friends of ours actually contacted me, a fellow that I’ve known for a long time, and gave me a pretty good sized sample of it. So we were able to do some testing. And actually we had Copeland and Lyon sent to us, malted by the same people, Palouse Malt up in Spokane. And so we were able to take that and kind of test that and see what it was going to do. We really had no idea. And the result was actually much better than I think anyone had thought. And it led us to think, you know, what other types of malt could be developed up here and could be grown that we could use.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so you like to experiment. Why is it important for you as a small microbrewer to experiment with different barleys?

Graham Lilly: Yeah, so like Kevin’s saying, we’re way more interested in flavor than we are yield. I mean we could use just your standard two row and get you know, fermentable sugar if that’s what we wanted. But we’re looking for complexity and depth of flavor and character mouth feel and the finished product so that it’s interesting to see what sorts of things might be developed in the future that we can add to various beers to illicit certain types of flavor. You know, we’re using this Lyon in our oatmeal pale, which is a very light beer. But it’s still really rich in character. And we little hop it. But the malt is really sort of the show, or the star of the show. And it’d be very interesting to see what sort of things could be developed in the future and bred to give different flavors for other types of beer. Or even this variety of beer, for instance. So it’s pretty exciting to see what we might be able to experiment with in the future.

Drew Lyon: So I don’t know whether this question is for one or both of you but how you, how do the two of you interact? How does a brewer interact with a breeder and vice versa? How’s that connection made and what kind of information do you share back and forth with one another to come up with something that’s satisfying for both of you?

Kevin Murphy: Part of my job, Drew, is spending a lot of time at the barstools of different breweries. [ Laughter ] And so that’s how I interact quite a bit with Graham at Hunga Dunga. And actually no, it’s just that discussion that really does help and we had, Graham was part of our barley field day we did last year where we started out in a field and then had the local maltsters, Link Malt up in Spokane and Mainstem Malt in Walla Walla, they both spoke to all the folks in attendance. And then we ended up at Hunga Dunga in Moscow Brewing Company. And Graham gave a great tour. And that’s really what kind of kicked off this relationship and so the maltsters provided Graham with some malt and we just went from there. Yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Graham Lilly: Yeah and it’s really neat to be able to give the researchers sort of the finished product side. And you know, show them kind of what their work is resulting in the finished product. You know, they’re spending their time in their labs and doing the breeding and the growing and it’s really cool to be able to, you know, I was a researcher in microbiology for a long time, so it’s really nice to kind of bring the two sides together and say “Here, this is what your work has done.”

Drew Lyon: Okay. And do you have connections with particular growers? How do you interact with growers on the malting barley side?

Graham Lilly: Yeah. So I have just some friends up in the Washington State Grant Commission who’ve sort of facilitated that. But I don’t know too many other growers.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Graham Lilly: As of yet. But working with Kevin and this has kind of really sort of grown that awareness and that relationship so I’m hoping to maybe have more of that in the future.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I know it’s a growing industry. There seems to be more and more microbrews popping up all over the place. And it’s very good for those who enjoy beer. There’s a lot of variety out there.

Graham Lilly: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: And so I look forward to this relationship continuing and thank you all for your time!

Graham Lilly: Thanks.

Kevin Murphy: Great.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. And leave us a review while you’re there. If you have questions for us that you’d like to hear addressed on future episodes, please email me at You can find us online at You can also reach out on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat Podcast is a production of CAHNRS communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon. We’ll see you next week.

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