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State that had prohibition the longest now growing barley for beer

According to the National Brewers Association, Kansas ranks 35th in the nation in the number of craft breweries.
According to the National Brewers Association, Kansas ranks 35th in the nation in the number of craft breweries. Courtesy photo

If she only knew, Carry Nation would be aghast.

Research money is going to grow better barley for beer — in Kansas.

Last week, the Brewers Association awarded a regional five-year project with a grant to be awarded each year to develop winter malting barley to be grown and harvested in the Great Plains.

For longtime Kansans, Kansas-grown barley for beer might be a new concept. But according to the National Brewers Association, Kansas ranks 35th in the nation in the number of craft breweries.

The irony in those figures is that this was famed prohibitionist Carry Nation’s home state. Kansas was the first state to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding the sale and production of intoxicating liquors.

Nation, the hatchet-toting prohibitionist, was, at the turn of the 20th century, one of Kansas’ most famous residents.

Beginning in Medicine Lodge, then Kiowa and Wichita, Nation would travel from town to town, wrecking saloons and berating people who sold liquor. At each stop, her mission and reputation grew.

She soon began to travel the world, giving speeches on prohibition until her death in 1911 in Leavenworth.

Kansas had prohibition from 1881 to 1948 – longer than any other state – and continued to prohibit liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants until 1986.

Now, Kansas is all about the pale ales, lagers, stouts and malts — and finding grains that will work in making those delightful alcoholic mixtures.

The first year’s grant is $35,000. Participants include Chuck Magerl, founder of Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence; Guorong Zhang, assistant professor and wheat breeder at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center in Hays; P. Stephen Baenziger, University of Nebraska professor of agronomy and horticulture; Dipak Santra, associate professor of crop breeding and genetics at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, Neb.; and Dolores “Do” Mornhingweg, research geneticist with the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The idea for the first year is to get the seed in, do lab work and get grad students involved,” Magerl said.

Although Kansas is known as the wheat state, barley is also grown in Kansas. However, much of it is grown as food for livestock and is traditionally a high-protein grain. Barley grown for beer needs to be lower-protein grain.

We have grown varieties of winter barley in five different locations in Kansas, from all the way in the eastern part near Lawrence to out toward Quinter in western Kansas. We are testing out different varieties.

Chuck Magerl, founder of Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence

“We have grown varieties of winter barley in five different locations in Kansas, from all the way in the eastern part near Lawrence to out toward Quinter in western Kansas,” Magerl said. “We are testing out different varieties.”

The project will be coordinated out of the University of Nebraska, Magerl said.

“I believe this will have a big impact not simply for craft brewers, but the bigger picture is we need to have various locations suitable for crops as we find changes in the weather patterns,” he said.

Another reason for the research is that barley crops in other regions of the U.S. and globally have been affected by Fusarium head blight or scab. Crops in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma have been less affected by the blight, Magerl said.

The funding each year is dependent on research progress.

“If the results are promising and the first year of work is recognized as viable, than we can send in a further request each year,” Magerl said.

The Brewers Association has more than 3,500 members in the United States, and 46,000 members are involved in the American Homebrewers Association.

As long as we can ensure there is a market and can produce a quality crop, it goes beyond a local element and into saying Kansas barley could show up in your favorite German beer – that’s the big-picture possibility.

Chuck Magerl, founder of Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence

“As long as we can ensure there is a market and can produce a quality crop, it goes beyond a local element and into saying Kansas barley could show up in your favorite German beer – that’s the big-picture possibility,” Magerl said.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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