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Trade Team Brews Possibilities for U.S. Barley in Chinese Craft Beers

First team from China to look at U.S. barley malt visited North Dakota, Idaho and Colorado

Photo provided by Idaho Barley Commission
Photo provided by Idaho Barley Commission

Chinese consumers could one day crack a craft beer made with U.S. barley malt, thanks to a team of craft brewing stakeholders from China who recently visited North Dakota, Idaho and Colorado, organized by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC).

“This team was the first from China to look at U.S. barley malt and it was a great success,” said Bryan Lohmar, USGC director in China. “The team members left very interested in procuring and using U.S. barley malt.”

The team visited a small, on-farm malting operation, a medium-sized malting facility that serves the craft brewing industry and a large industrial facility producing malt for a variety of customers - as well as several barley farms and research operations. At each stop, the team learned about the quality characteristics and marketing practices for U.S. barley, as well as the intricacies of U.S. malt production.

“Producing malting barley is complicated, both the economics to get farmers to grow it and the technical challenges to meet malting quality in the face of disease, weather and other risks - far more involved than anyone on the team expected,” said Daniel Herbert, master brewer for Beijing Slow Boat Brewery and trade team member. “And that’s before it even gets to the malting plant.”

China is the world’s largest beer producer with a small but rapidly growing craft beer industry. A significant share of China’s barley malt used to brew that beer is produced from imported barley from Australia, Canada and Europe, but this extended pipeline makes it more difficult to control the quality of the barley and negatively affects the resulting malt quality. Therefore, Chinese brewers are increasing demand for imported malt that has more consistent quality - something the U.S. barley industry can provide.

U.S. barley producers currently supply barley for malt under a production contract, but individual craft brewers or importers from China are not well-positioned to offer these types of contracts. U.S. malt producers can, however, contract with farmers and then sell the malt to China importers directly or through beer ingredient supply companies that already import to China. Even better, U.S. malt does not require an export protocol to the country.

“The team members were very impressed with the work and dedication that goes into producing barley and barley malt and the wide variety of malt options available to the craft brewing industry in China,” Lohmar said. “Focusing on malt exports makes sense for Chinese brewers because malters in China cannot effectively contract with U.S. producers, but U.S. malters can and do so regularly.”

USCG will continue to assist Chinese craft brewers with exploring the import prospects by providing market information and developing a greater understanding of the opportunities for U.S. barley malt producers to supply customers in China.

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