Chevallier revived: malt as new hops?
Crisp Malting revives the favourite of 19th century brewing
Why should hops have all the social media buzz? That’s the thinking in part behind the commercial reintroduction by Crisp Malting of Chevallier, a Victorian era barley variety that was prominent from the mid-1800s up until the Second World War.
The origins of Chevallier date back to 1825, with the variety attributed to the efforts of Rev John Chevallier, the son of British astronomer and mathematician Rev Temple Chevallier. It eventually gave way mid-20th century, with the plant being tall and prone to ‘lodging’, a bending of the stalk, as well as providing lower yields than the varieties that surpassed and replaced it.
The variety returned to the attention of the modern world thanks to research into Fusarium resistance. And, according to Dr David Griggs of Crisp Malting, this quality, combined with modern agricultural techniques to manage plant heights and stiffen stems, make the return of Chevallier possible.
As a heritage variety, with proscribed legal limits, Chevallier will never be grown in huge amounts. But that’s part of the objectives in its reintroduction – to have brewers think about malted barley much in the way that they’re enthused about hop varieties.
As Griggs described it, “What we’re trying to encourage is, ‘OK, you’ve done the hop now it’s time to consider malts and consider are there differences in flavour coming through from different varieties.’ So let’s go back to the start and see whether this variety does bring forward something different from what you’re getting out of a modern variety.”
Starting a few years ago with only a handful of seeds, by 2013 half a tonne was available for brewing, with head brewer Shane Swindells at The Cheshire Brewhouse collaborating with Crisp’s Carl Heron to create Govinda, an authentic 19th century beer.
By 2014 there was a 20 tonne harvest, with five tonnes malted by Crisp Malting on their traditional No 19 floor maltings. (The balance was reserved for seed.) This malt was snapped up by four American craft brewers: Bells, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island and Tributary.
Now the 2015 harvest is nudging 200 tonnes and there’s Chevallier malt aplenty. With another 15 tonnes reserved for seed, the expectation is that similar harvests will be possible in future years.
Griggs said that Chevallier is being used to brew IPAs, porters and old ales – beers that would have been around at the time when Chevalier was the predominant variety.
“People that have tasted it say that it has a very rich, malty flavour. We’ve had comments back from the States such as, ‘It’s the most aromatic malt that I’ve ever brewed with.’ … There’s a perception of a difference, of richer maltiness.”
It’s hoped that a handful of brewers will make continued use of Chevallier as part of their beer portfolios rather than treat it as a one-off experiment in malting flavours.
And in keeping with the ‘malt is the new hops’ thinking, Griggs noted that there are further heritage varieties in the pipeline that will be introduced as interest in Chevallier begins to wane.