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Sampling Beer to Find the Perfect Malting Barley Part I with Evan Craine

Posted by Blythe Howell | January 25, 2021

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Contact Evan Craine 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 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: We have split today’s episode into two parts. This is Part One. Please join us in two weeks for Part Two of Evan Crane’s interview. My guest today is Evan Craine. Evan worked as a technician on multiple switch grass ecology, physiology, and genomics projects at the Texas A&M University Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple, Texas, before starting his Ph.D. at WSU. His dissertation focuses on breeding quinoa and barley for flavor and nutrition. His passion about bridging the gap between farmers, stakeholders, and consumers to develop nutritious and flavorful varieties with a sense of place. Evan enjoys facilitating tastings that engaged the public with sensory perception of regional agricultural products. To appreciate something, you must understand it, and to understand something, you must experience it. Hello, Evan.

Evan Craine: Hi Drew.

Drew Lyon: So, I mentioned quinoa and barley flavor but can you tell us a little more about your dissertation work?

Evan Craine: Yeah, my dissertation is focused mainly on breeding for end-use quality. And there are some other major themes that I like to structure my dissertation around. And those also include regional grain economy development, community outreach, and engagement, as you mentioned in the introduction. I also have a significant international collaboration as part of the quinoa projects. I also tried to build in a lot of different, diverse research experiences, which I think we’ll talk more about today. And then, I’m working with some complex phenotypes. So, things like flavor, which could be really subjective and hard to pin down. And then, also looking at high throughput methods to measure things like seed composition and seed size. Those have been big themes of the work that I’ve been doing. And so, I have three projects that focus on quinoa and then three projects that focus on malting barley that embody those themes in one way or another.

Drew Lyon: So, you’re a very busy graduate student. [ laughter ]

Evan Craine: I am, yeah.

Drew Lyon: And you’re working under Kevin Murphy, is that correct?

Evan Craine: That’s correct. I’m in Kevin Murphy’s Sustainable Seed Systems Lab and when I joined Kevin’s program, he was the barley breeder. And so, at the time, he was also doing quinoa work but he’s now transitioned to a role that’s focused more on international cropping systems and seed systems. And so, my dissertation reflects that transition a little bit. You know, it was opportunistic in some of the funding he had available for barley, which supported those projects. And then, some of the work done with quinoa that we’re still carrying forward as Kevin has moved into this new role.

Drew Lyon: Okay, well, can you tell us a little bit about your projects that focus on malting barley?

Evan Craine: Absolutely. So, the first project is using material from the WSU and University of Idaho Spring Barley Variety Trials. And so, these varieties were grown in 2017 and 2018 at locations that represent different rainfall zones, soil types, and I can talk more about that but we’re really interested in understanding how these varieties perform in the malt house. So, what their malt quality is and part of that is understanding the genetic side of things, the variety itself, but also how it interacts with the environment. And how the environment can be characterized in terms of their ability to produce really high-quality malting barley. So, that’s the first project, that variety trial study. The next two projects are work that has been done in collaboration with Stephen Bramwell, who is the director at Thurston County Research and Extension. And he has done a really great job on this grounded glass project, which is focused on developing markets, value-added markets for grain growers in Washington. And so, the first study that we did was a consumer panel where we’re really interested in looking at barley, malt, and beer flavor for four WSU advanced breeding lines and we compared those to an industry-standard control. And then, the second study was also a consumer sensory evaluation study but that was done at a brew fest. So, it was a really different setting, but we were getting at similar questions, but we use a little bit different method methodology to try to answer those questions.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, a range of things. What was the specific goal of your project using the WSU and U of I variety trial samples?

Evan Craine: So, I alluded to this a little bit but what we really want to try to understand is how the genotype, and the environment, and their interactions influence malting quality. And so, as I said, the grain was grown as part of these variety trial programs. But then, the grain was sent to the USDA or United States Department of Agriculture’s Cereal Crops Research Unit where it was all malted under the same conditions, and they sent us back that malt quality data. And so, we can look at the malt quality data, which isn’t just one trait. It’s a whole set of different traits that are important both from maltsters. So, things like grain protein, which can really influence how well or easy it is to work with the grain to malt it. And I should mention that for those that aren’t familiar, malting is just germinating the grain or sprouting it in a controlled way and then stopping that process so that it’s then ready to be brewed with. And so, it’s creating a lot of precursors that are needed in the brewing process. Those sugars that the yeast is going to eat and then products that the yeast needs in terms of its nutrition. And so, when we get the malt quality data back, we have to consider all of these different traits. And breeders will usually sort varieties based on, maybe, a couple of traits, like, extract or how much sugar is going to be available for the brewing process. Another really important trade is beta-glucans for food barley, for human consumption, you may want high beta-glucans because they’re really heart-healthy. But that can be problematic in the brewing process because of issues with viscosity and some other downstream effects. And so, what we want to do is look at all these traits together, understand what their relationships are for these varieties that can be grown in Washington state, northern Idaho, and understand which varieties might be the best in terms of their potential to produce really high-quality malt and in which environments they might grow in. And I’m particularly interested in seeing if there are certain varieties that do really well in certain environments. So then, we can give that information to farmers and help them be successful to grow high-quality malting barley, which you can receive a premium for. And then, I’ll just add really quick that we are also going to be serving brewers to understand which traits really matter to them. Because for a while the data coming back from the Cereal Crop Research Unit, that malt quality data, each sample would receive a score based on guidelines set by the American Malting Barley Association. And so, we want to know how closely that matches what brewers actually need because that — it’s sort of a moving target. The beer industry is diversifying, it’s changing really quickly. And so, from a breeder’s perspective, to be able to try and meet those needs, it helps to have that input directly from the source.

Drew Lyon: Okay, yeah. That’s a wide array of needs you’re trying to meet. I would guess because there’s a lot of different brewers out there anymore.

Evan Craine: Yeah. So, it will be really interesting to see if they align on anything. You know how much they care about certain trades. If there’s any regional differences. And hopefully, we’ll learn that through this survey.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And, you know, it seems to me in wheat quality, environment plays a huge role. Is that also true in barley characteristics?

Evan Craine: Yeah, it can. So, a lot of malting barley is produced in southeast Idaho, actually, under irrigation. It’s a really great environment there. And they can control the environment, produce that really high-quality grain, which then has really high potential to be made into malting barley. And so, that’s certainly a factor. And hopefully, through this study, we can identify which environments growers in Washington, Idaho, can be successful in growing this malting barley because not a lot of it’s grown on the Palouse. So, anything we can do to help out that market, I think will be beneficial.

Drew Lyon: Yes, I’m sure it would be. So, how did the consumer panel go and what did you learn from that?

Evan Craine: Well, the consumer panel is a really interesting experience compared to, like, some of the greenhouse studies I’ve done or maybe what most graduate students who had experience from a field program. There was a lot of preparation that went into that. We had to first get the grain malted, which was done in collaboration with Oregon State University. And then, we had to brew each of the beers for the study. And just as a reminder, we’re looking at advanced breeding lines from the WSU program that at the time Kevin was considering for release. And we wanted to compare them to industry-standard control, which we use CDC Copeland, which gets a lot of acreage in Washington state. And so, we had to brew those beers, like I said, and we did that with Moscow Brewing Company. It was on a really small scale. It was about three gallons that we were fermenting of each beer. So, if you can imagine like a milk jug, [ Drew chuckles ] three of those is how much beer we were using for this study. And that was just because we didn’t have a lot of grain available because a lot of it was going back in the field to be evaluated for another year. And so, there is all this preparation on the front end to get ready for the study. And then, at the end of the second day, I had all the data and I just walked away with it. And so, that was a lot different from, you know, a study where you have to grow the plants, harvest them, collect all this data over a long period of time, and then analyze it. And the big question that we were getting at with the study was we wanted to see if the genotype, or the identity, of each of those different barleys, was a distinct characteristic. And what I mean by that is, could the consumers, the people that were tasting the malt and the beer, could they differentiate between them? Did it have a significant effect on the differences that we were able to measure? And what we found is that for the hot steep malt, which is basically a malt tea, it’s wort, essentially. If you’re familiar with brewing and if you’re not, basically what it is, is ground-up malted barley that’s been put into hot water and filtered. And then, that product is taken in the brewery, boiled down, and hops are added, and then it’s fermented. So, you can think of the hot steep malt as a precursor to what you would eventually ferment into a beer. And so, that hot steep method is actually approved by the American Society of Brewing Chemists in 2017 as an approved sensory methods. So, it’s a really easy and rapid way to get an idea of what these malts tastes like without having to brew a beer. And so, what we did is the work of actually brewing beers with them because we wanted to see are the things that people taste in the hot steep is not going to show up in the beer? Because from a breeding program perspective, if we could use this hot steep to either have people taste it and tell us the ones they like or just as a screening tool, we might be able to select for flavor in the breeding process without having to brew beers. And so, what we found is that the consumers, they really knew the beers. We tried to screen people that were craft beer drinkers that were really into beer, and we got about a hundred people that signed up to help us out with this. But they weren’t that familiar with the hot steep. You know, it’s new. We had a couple of people who are home brewers that were familiar with wort and what that tastes like. And so, there wasn’t a lot of differences that we saw from these different barleys in terms of the hot steep. But we did see a lot of differences for the beers, both in terms of what people liked and then what they liked about them. So, we had them select from a list of descriptors, certain terms that they thought best described each of the samples. And so, in general, the WSU breeding lines in the beers performed better. They were liked more than the control, which is really great to see, especially for Kevin at the time, as he is considering releasing one of these, at least in the recipe that the brewer we worked with developed. And so, we were able also to characterize each of the barleys based on the attributes that the consumers selected. So, you can think of that is like a flavor profile for each of those. And we also got data on whether or not people would actually purchase these beers and most of the people would purchase them. And we found that certain attributes, like citrus or nutty, those had a positive effect on willingness to purchase or responding that they would purchase them. And so, it was a really fun experience. And that was in collaboration with Caroline Ross’s group in the School of Food Science and the Sensory Lab over there.

Drew Lyon: Well, that’s very interesting that you kind of got a consensus on that because I would think that would be all over the board on what people like or don’t like and what they can sense and can’t sense. So, that’s very interesting.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: This was part one of our two-part episode with Evan Craine. Please subscribe and join us in two weeks for the second half of our interview. 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.

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