Barley for Brewing with Bob Brueggeman


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Contact Bob via cell phone (preferred) at (509) 336-5194 or via email at

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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. 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. In each episode, I speak with researchers 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 guest today is Dr. Robert Brueggeman. Bob is a career barley researcher which started as an undergraduate at WSU in 1997. He continued working in barley research at WSU while earning an MS in crop science in 2004 and Ph.D. in 2009. He then moved to North Dakota State University as the barley pathologist/geneticist, where he spent 10 years. His focus was utilizing genetics and genomics technologies for breeding applications. This experience allowed him to come home to WSU, as he is now the WSU barley breeder and the Robert A Nilan Endowed Chair in Barley Research and Education. Hello, Bob.

Bob Brueggeman: Hello Drew.

Drew Lyon: So, welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. I think we’ve had you on once before, shortly after you arrived, but I’m wondering if you can kind of tell us what your program’s current focus is and why you do see this as an important emphasis of your barley breeding program.

Bob Brueggeman: Thanks, Drew. Well, so, my program is really focusing on developing malting barley varieties, with a major emphasis on developing those varieties so that they make the American Malting Barley Association list. And for your viewers, or listeners, that may not know what the American Malting Barley Association is, it’s a nonprofit organization that collects dues from the big brewing and malting industries, as well as the craft distilling and malting and brewing industries. And they provide funding to public malt-barley researchers. And currently, my program is funded through them for developing malt barley varieties at WSU. I think it’s really important that we make that list, because for the WSU malt barley varieties truly gain large acreage in the state, we’re going to have to be able to have that designation of AMBA because the large malting facilities like Great Western will not contract barley with the growers unless they have that designation. So, it’s really important that we make that designation, and with the WSU Barley Breeding Program, historically, it was mainly focused on feed. And it wasn’t until the last couple of decades that there was a shift towards some malt barley breeding. With my predecessors, Steve Ulrich and Kevin Murphy, they really started working on some malt barley varieties, and Kevin was able to release Palmer, which was the first small barley variety released by WSU a couple of years ago, and that has gained some interest with the craft brewing and distilling industry. But for us to move forward, we really want to make that AMBA designation. So, we’re really focusing on quality, quality, quality when we’re moving the program forward.

Drew Lyon: Okay, and that’s kind of a different emphasis than when you came here, or at least what the program had. You kind of touched on that, but you’ve made quite a shift in just your short, I don’t know what, 18 months/two years that you’ve been here.

Bob Brueggeman: Yeah, I’ve been here close to two years now, and when I came in, I was going to focus on malt-barley varieties, but I think my main emphasis at that time was thinking the craft industry. And that’s still, you know, a huge, important industry to focus on, but as I started gaining more experience and realizing, you know, for us to gain acreage in barley and be able to get contracts on larger acreages, it’s definitely going to require that we make that AMBA designation, and WSU has released Palmer, which is, you know, directed towards the craft industry, but now we really want to focus on that quality/quality, get it to the parameters that are required of AMBA, and then, we’ll move forward from there.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so how do you see the program’s shift having an impact on barley stakeholders, including producers and end-users?

Bob Brueggeman: Well, that shift is definitely important in that there is the large malting facilities are going to require that AMBA designation like I had previously stated. And so, for us to be able to make the craft industry, as well as the large malt quality, malting facilities or make quality for that and be able to demand more acreage and more contracts, we definitely need to make that AMBA designation. And with that, you will be able to see the WSU branded barley varieties would be able to command more acreage because we’d be able to receive more contracts, definitely, through those efforts.

Drew Lyon: Do you see that track for AMBA being the same as for craft brewing, or is there a different — do the craft brewers — looking for something else? Are you going to try to have two tracks or just focus on AMBA?

Bob Brueggeman: Oh, that’s a great question, Drew. And so, for the most part, the craft industry has different parameters that they use that they’re allowed to have, you know, more diversity in what we produce, as far as those quality parameters. But currently, when you talk to the craft brewers, they’re basically using base malt that’s coming out of the big industry because of the price difference that you see with, for example, if you’re doing toll malting, there’s a large increase in the price for those types of craft malts. So, currently, the focus on that AMBA designation still means that those varieties can make it into the craft track, but at the same time, you know, we will be focusing on the parameters that are, you know, used by the craft industry, in order to be able to add attributes that they’re interested in. For example, like taste profiles. There was a recent survey sent out for the craft maltsters, and one of their top concerns was flavor. And so, that’s something we will focus on, and hopefully, that will give us a name, as far as moving craft varieties, as well.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so, what changes or issues do you need to address to meet your goals when you’re breeding malt barley?

Bob Brueggeman: Some of the changes that we have to make to be able to make the AMBA designation like I said, is meet those quality parameters. There’s some great material coming down the pipeline and material breeding lines that came out. For example, Kevin Murphy had a line, 107.22, which was an experimental variety. It didn’t quite make the parameters for AMBA, but when it was put into the Western Regional nurseries, it was one of the highest yielder’s mean across all these nurseries, all the way from the Dakotas to the west coast. So, we have those adapted really nice lines and genetics in the material. It’s just we need to introduce a little more quality parameters so that we can boost a couple of things. So that not only do we have that really broad, adapted, nice genetics there but also meets the quality parameters for AMBA. And for us to do that, one of the main things that we’re emphasizing is we got a grant through the Washington Grains Commission to start the WSU Malt Quality Testing Lab. And with a testing lab, now we have the in-house capability, or will here very shortly, to be able to test for quality parameters in real-time, so as our material is coming out of the field. We’ll be able to test it right away, especially the ones that were come most interested in that we think could be the winners, and then, that’ll allow us to also separate what we call the goats from the sheep and get rid of things early in the breeding process so that we’re not wasting resource and field space on those lines. So that we can enrich our program with lines that are going to make those quality parameters.

Drew Lyon: Okay, you’re not making any kind of statement about the relative value of goats and sheep there, are you? [ laughter ]

Bob Brueggeman: No, but I do like sheep more than goats.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, how do you envision the WSU Malt Quality Lab changing the university’s relationship with the brewing and distilling industries?

Bob Brueggeman: Well, I think the malt quality lab is going to allow us to have more interaction with the industry, as far as the craft distilling, craft brewing, and craft malting industries. Not only will we be testing our own material, but we will have a service, fee for service, for third-party malt testing, which will service the malting craft, brewing, and distilling industries, and that’ll give us, you know, WSU, the spotlight, to be able to interact with those industries.

Drew Lyon: Well, you know, I wish you success. As a weed scientist, I’d love to see more acres of barley out there, because I think it’s a great rotational crop to have in our rotation. So, I’m hoping we can see more acres of barley in Eastern Washington. And so, I wish you a great deal of success with your efforts. Where can listeners go to learn more about the WSU Barley Breeding Program?

Bob Brueggeman: Well, Drew, currently, we’re working with WSU communications to get a website going, and it will be at the URL, and there we’ll post, you know, our current emphasis and research projects, as well as our breeding efforts, where we’re at with that. And it’ll also have a URL for the WSU Malt Barley Quality Lab, and there, you know, we’ll have priced the services that we’re offering, as well as, you know, kind of a walk through the lab to show the different instrumentation and procedures we use and all the different quality parameters that we’re testing.

Drew Lyon: Fantastic. We’ll put those URL links into the show notes, and maybe we’ll try to get some links onto the WSU Wheat and Small Grains website, as well.

Bob Brueggeman: That’d be great, Drew.

Drew Lyon: Thanks, Bob. Appreciate your time today.

Bob Brueggeman: All right, thank you very much, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s –( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.