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What’s the difference between 2-row and 6-row?

Barley grown for brewers malt is called malting barley, as opposed to feed barley, and is divided into two general types; 2-row and 6-row. The most obvious difference between a head of 2-row barley and a head of 6-row barley is the arrangement of the kernels when the head is viewed down its axis. Brewers don’t make a big deal about 2-row versus 6-row barley based on the appearance of the barley head, however. The significant differences are found upon closer examination.

In general, 6-row malted barley has more protein and enzyme content than 2-row malted barley, is thinner than two-row malt and contains less carbohydrate. There are also flavor differences between 2-row and 6-row and it seems that most brewers feel 2-row malt produces a fuller, maltier flavor and 6-row malt produces a grainier flavor in the finished beer.

The interesting fact about 6-row barley is that it is only grown in North America. Its high enzyme concentration after malting is one of the reasons cereal adjuncts like rice and corn can be used without causing problems with mash conversion. The other thing about 6-row barley is that it has become a symbol of what the European brewers don’t use. Just read the marketing materials of many imports and you will find references to the exclusive use of 2-row malted barley, implying that there is something inferior to 6-row malting barley. We don’t share that opinion since 6-row malt certainly has its place in brewing.

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