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Is 2-Row Barley Better?

Updated: May 3, 2023

You've heard that Göller Brewery uses a traditional, 2-row barley, but how important is that to flavor? Let's back up a bit and look at the differences between 2-row and 6-row barley.

The first German immigrants to America brought a love for pilsner style lagers. Problem is, pilsner beers require high quality ingredients, like the 2-row barley grown in Germany.

The American climate is different. The 6-row variety of barley did better in the American climate than the 2-row. Soon enough, all American style pilsners used a 6-row barley, and the flavor became slightly different too.

Basically, the 6-row has 6 rows of grains on the head, whereas the 2-row only has 2. This does not mean that you get more grain with 6 rows, since the 2-row grains are usually larger and make up the difference.

But there are some big differences. The protein content and diastatic power vary a lot. 6-row tends to have higher protein content and plus it also has higher enzymatic content (diastatic power). These important enzymes break the starches into sugars for fermentation, without which there could be no fermentation. This means that typically 6-row barley malts reach higher attenuation than a 2-row, with the result being a thinner, smaller mouthfeel.

There is also a noticeable difference in flavor, although this is debated by some. Often beer drinkers say a 6-row barley has a "grainy" characteristic, which is probably due to the higher protein content. The 2-row has a more malty flavor.

Why do nearly all the big American brewers use 6-row? Because they want the higher diastatic power of the 6-row to help ferment the adjuncts such as corn or rice. The history of adjuncts in beer is another story, but basically it comes down to barley was hard to find in the early days of brewing in America. In order to make the grain bill cheaper many brewers used corn. Thus, 6-row barley became associated with the bland American Pilsner.

Craft brewers today have been increasingly catching on to this difference. Nowadays many craft brewers in the United States have switched over to the exclusive use of 2-row barley.

Göller in Germany, as a small craft brewery, goes even further by overseeing their own fields of traditional, 2-row barley from which they source all their grain. They work with farmers around Zeil am Main to improve the barley's quality so that they can have the most excellent beer in Germany. It pays off with big dividends, because Göller beer has won countless awards!

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