Barley – 2 Row and 6 Row

Brewers and distillers will find themselves most likely using 2-Row malted Barley in their beer or spirits making efforts. But there is another type of barley called 6-Row and it is still available to use, although it is sometimes difficult to source.The question that then arises is, what is the difference between 2-Row and 6-Row barley? The answer can be found by learning about the plant physiology of barley. As the barley plant begins to sprout and emerge from the soil, it starts to develop a stalk from which leaves form. This formation then leads to the ear structure forming. The central component in the ear is the rachis. Along the shaft of the rachis are nodes. From each nodal point, 3 spikelets emerge. The nodes behave such that if a grouping of 3 spikelets form on the right side of the rachis, then the next group of 3 will form on the left side. And so on, and so on. Generally the middle node is the fertile one and will produce a fruit (called a barleycorn). This means that at each grouping of 3 spikelets there will be one kernel of grain. Due to the alternating pattern of the spikelets, this will give a kernel on the left and right side of the rachis. This is a 2 row barley. If all 3 spikelets are fertile, then you will get clusters of 3 kernels on each side of the rachis. This is what is termed a 6 row barley. The following diagram taken from the Powerpoint slides I use when delivering Distilling Workshops illustrates the above concepts. If you can find some 6 row barley, give it a try in some beer or in a mash for spirits distillation. It has a slightly different taste profile than 2 row owing to slightly different lipids (fatty acids) in the outer layers of the kernel.