Behind great tasting beer is great science, like the barley research taking place at the James Hutton Institute and the International Barley Hub.
Beer is a popular purchase in the UK market, with some 22 million pints consumed every day across the nation. Likewise, barley is arguably Scotland’s most important crop. Scotland grows at least three times as much barley as it does wheat, ten times as much as potatoes and a hundred times as much as oats – by area, especially in the north and east, near distilleries, according to the Scottish Crop Map published by Rural and Environmental Sciences and Analytical Services, a division of the Scottish Government.
This underpins the demands of the Scotch whisky and the UK beer industries. With 44 bottles of Scotch exported every second and a whopping 22 million pints of beer drunk in the UK every day, barley underpins the £20bn drinks industry.
As we look to a more sustainable future, the brewing industry is no different to others and will require research to help it transition to a more sustainable future.
Fortunately, barley is a highly adaptable crop and is already an ‘environmentally friendly crop’ due to the low level of agricultural inputs. There is still more to be done in this area, which the James Hutton Institute and the International Barley Hub (IBH) will be contributing to.
The movement towards more sustainable beer has already started, with a surge of breweries creating carbon-neutral beers, a trend that is likely to continue. Examples of this include major breweries such as Heineken, Carlsberg and BrewDog. Scotland has a thriving brewing scene, with a host of small breweries using local ingredients to craft beer, contributing to the country’s reputation for top-quality produce.
The James Hutton Institute has been involved in beer projects with sustainability at heart. This includes projects such as Cool Beans and other sustainable alcohol products such as Nàdar Vodka and Nàdar Gin.
On the horizon, IBH will further strengthen current knowledge and expertise in the beer industry. IBH can drive innovation in this area and help sustain the industry under a changing climate.
IBH is an initiative seeking to create a platform for the translation of barley research into economic, social, environmental and commercial impacts for the breeding, farming, malting, brewing, feed, food, health and related industries.
Hutton expertise in barley genetics, along with rapid advances in genomics, results in an unprecedented ability to identify causal genes for economically important characters, notably yield and malting quality – both essential to making great quality beer.
IBH involves many stakeholders in the malting and brewing industry, aiming to work together to address current and future issues such as reaching carbon zero goals, ensuring climate change resilience in terms of barley production and increasing sustainability for all aspects of the malt and beer supply chain.
If you do choose to have a beer today to celebrate International Beer Day, please remember three things: 1) Drink responsibly, 2) Barley as a crop is a fundamental part of making it taste as delicious as it does, and 3) Hutton barley scientists will strive to improve the research on the crop, ensuring it continues to support this industry as we transition to a net-zero environment.