Almost 200 years of malting barley success

Monday, 25 March 2024

The Maltsters’ Association of Great Britain (MAGB) provides insight into how the trade association has stood the test of time.

Since 1827, MAGB has represented the interests of the UK malting industry. Currently, it represents 98% of UK malt production. With around 2 Mt of UK malting barley purchased annually, producing about 1.6 Mt of malt, it is an important sector.

A key to its enduring success is its strong market focus. One of its many activities is to administer the Malting Barley Committee (MBC), the body that evaluates and approves malting barley varieties for end-user suitability. This approval system has worked alongside the RL trials for around 50 years, helping to deliver a one-stop-shop for variety data through the recommended lists for spring and winter barley.

Three crop years of successful micromalting quality data results in a newly recommended malting barley variety being granted MBC Provisional Approval. Commercial-scale malting, brewing and/or distilling trials follow, which, if successful, lead to a variety gaining the sought-after accolade of MBC Full Approval. 

This industry-led process has ensured a continuous pipeline of top-quality winter and spring malting barley varieties, which fulfil the quality requirements of malt users in the UK and around the world.

The MBC approval process has brought forward many successful spring malting varieties, including Chariot, Optic, Quench, Tipple, and, more recently, Concerto, Planet and Laureate. Successful winter malting varieties include Halcyon, Pipkin, Puffin, Flagon and Craft (all of which can trace their lineage back to Maris Otter).

The recent rise and fall of malting barley varieties, in terms of tonnes purchased across England and Scotland, is illustrated in the following figure.

MAGB barley purchases for England and Scotland (2013–22)

Each year, MAGB releases a Total Nitrogen (TN) content Wish List for barley crop purchases from its members. TN is a major determinant of the suitability of barley for specific malt types, from malt for traditional ale brewing to distilling malt. Due to its importance, the Wish List is published in the RL.

MAGB Total Nitrogen Wish List for harvest 2024

Charts taken from Page 25 of RL 2024/25.

The latest MBC Approved List features five new varieties under test for malting: two winter and three spring barley varieties (two for brewing only, one for brewing and malt distilling, and two for malt distilling only). Time will tell whether these will go on to become key players in the malting industry.

Further information

You can monitor the progress of varieties through the MBC approval process, see the latest Wish List and access further information on malting barley on the MAGB website:

UK malt use 1990-2023

The use of UK malt produced in 2023

Agrochemicals accepted by the British Beer and Pub Association and Campden BRI for use on cereals (2024)