01 July 2012

Researching For Romance ~ Barley Farming

Research takes me to the 'field'...

Barley is classified as a grass.  It is green in appearance, and as it ripens the tops, called Awns, turn a beautiful golden hue.  These tall grassy stalks topped with the bent over awns produce the waves upon the fields.  A lovely thing to watch.  There are two main types of barley, Six-Row-Barley and Two-Row-Barley.  It is typically the Two-Row-Barley that we find in English ale style beers.

*  Interesting fact:  The Bavarian Purity Law, set on 23 April, 1516 set standards for beer production, namely limiting ingredients to water, barley, and hops.

UK Agriculture introduced this romance writer to the world of barley farming and production. The first stop along the research trail, I discovered a great deal of factual statistics along with growing seasons, crop rotation techniques, and systems of farming.  Barley is a hardy crop suitable for the often poor growing conditions of north and west sections of Britain, but the crop is popular in many locations around the globe.  All vaguely interesting but not necessarily my 'cup-of-tea' shall we say.  Still, the information gleaned is valuable when one hopes to incorperate barley farms into a novel. 

There are two growing seasons for barley crops in the UK and elsewhere.  The winter crop produces greater quantity, but lesser quality, and is used primarily for animal feeds.  The spring crop is of finer quality, but lesser quantity.  This spring crop is malted and then used in ale and whiskey production provided it is of the highest quality.  This is where research began to get interesting!      

Barley storage,  an article posted by the University of Minnesota, describes ideal storage conditions, storage life-span, and offered disease prevention tactics.  Clean storage facilities with adequate air flow are imperative for barley storage, which can be stored for a maximum of nine months.  I was not surprised to learn that moisture is a main contributing factor to bacterial and viral infection.  Sifting out broken particles is also necessary, as the casing protects the grain.  This topic required little time, as I don't go into this aspect in the novel.  I did, however, read and catalogue my finds.  Once I get going, I become 'hungry' to know as much as I can discover on a subject.  Ha!  (This is a fine example of me following rabbit trails in cyber-space, subsequently losing a chunk of time I can never reclaim.  Alas!  I cannot help myself.  lol)

* Interesting fact:  The word barn originally meant: barley house. 

The Fascinating Portion of Today's Research Feature, Finally!

The Home Distiller provided valuable information on the malting and drying process.  This site also includes specific instructions on making scotch, bourbon, and other whiskeys!  I never knew...  I've gone through the fermenting process before - we make wine every year - but whiskey is a whole new adventure!  And...a great venture for a romantic hero to dabble in.  Voila!  Whiskey production!  I'd found a way to connect barley farming to a personal passion for my hero; one that I've not encountered in a romance novel thus far. (* Note:  I'm certain there is such a romantic hero, but I'm feeling creative and 'cutting-edge' here...please excuse my ramblings)

Malting barley is a fairly simple process.  Malting is the process of wetting the barley to ecourage partial germination before drying, which can be accomplished slowly by spreading the grains and turning often or by drying in kilns.  The malted barley is cleaned and de-sprouted, put in sacks and banged against hard surfaces to knock off the rootlets, then shaken and tossed to sift out any broken pieces.  Malted barley is known for its rich flavor. To determine if the barley is dry, malters weigh the barley before wetting, and then continue to dry until the weight returns to pre-wetted-status.  Simple yet innovative, I thought.  Drying is not necessary if the malted product is to be used right away.

My mind came alive as I read, surprisingly, for I expected this topic to be rather boorish.  Not at all.  I will feature a post about whiskey in the near future.  I suppose I'm interested mainly because this skill isn't widely possessed.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll brew some ale - or malt some whiskey (I don't think I like Scotch...Fire down the gullet?  Sounds like a bad time...lol).  But I'd sure like to try it.  Hmm.  Another research-topic-rabbit-trail...I'm sure there are laws about whiskey production.  Ha.

 ~ Nadja


  1. haha yeah there are serious laws about whiskey production:-) how are you?
    this seems like a interesting area of study...I drank for my research and forgot what I was supposed to write about!
    writing progresses and life moves on.


    1. Ha! ...forgot what you were supposed to write about...:)
      I'm doing well. I've been running around crazy, and this week holds more of the same before next week's vacation.

      Glad to hear the writing progresses!

  2. I think Diana Gabaldon's Jamie used barley to malt whiskey (actually, Scots would be whisky) :)

    Fascinating stuff Nadja!

    1. Yes it is. Like I said, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this topic! It's funny that you point out the different spellings...in the next leg/post of/about my whiskey research - I point out the different spellings and the regions where they are used. Ha!

  3. Sometimes I forget how much research we do when it comes to our writing.

    I didn't know you made wine! How cool is that. I probably shouldn't make it since I'd be too tempted to drink up all the product.

    1. I'll promise to put up our label in one of my next few posts...:}

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