26 March 1999

British barley regains a foothold in the Far East

By Andrew Swallow

BRITISH malting barley is back on the menu, say Chinese brewers, with Optic, Chariot and Regina top of their shopping lists.

Since 1995 Chinese contracts have excluded UK produce due to a large British shipment that failed to meet expectations. Now that is set to change, thanks to an independent study scholarship at Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh, which is part-funded by British Cereal Exports.

Four malting and brewing industry representatives, responsible for buying nearly half Chinas 1.8m t of malting barley imports each year, found British barley had equal or better malting characteristics than French, Danish or Australian alternatives.

"Before we came on the course I could name 10 English football teams, but hardly one barley," says Wang Zhibin, deputy director of the Zhujiang Brewery in Guangzho, China. "Now we have a much better understanding of British malting barley and have learnt a lot about the technology of the malting and brewing industry."

His company alone buys 400,000t of barley a year. Historically it has preferred the sun-bleached grain from Australia or Canada, in the belief that light grain produced light wort and beer. On the scholarship the buyers established that wort colour is due to the kilning of the malt, not the original barley, helping to open the silo doors to darker skinned barleys from cool countries.

"And on a comparable basis UK barleys give a higher malt extract than all other barleys," adds malting specialist Geoff Palmer who directs the scholarship programme at the university.

Last year, some French Prisma and Danish Alexis were shipped to China, replacing Australian and Canadian barleys such as Sterling and Harrington. British grain could be next – and Regina is in pole position, reckons British Cereal Exports chairman Barclay Forrest.

"They like Optic, Chariot and Regina, but are most likely to be able to buy the Regina," he says.

"It could be a particularly useful market for malting samples that cannot find a home locally."

This years scholarship is the second of four programmes which aim to include 80% of the Chinese barley buyers by their conclusion in 2001, says Mr Forrest. At £12,000/programme it is excellent value for money, he concludes. &#42

CHINASCHOICE

&#8226 1.92-2.08% nitrogen typical spec.

&#8226 Optic, Chariot and Regina.

&#8226 Regina most likely – on price.

&#8226 Highest extract from British barleys.