Are brewery barley grains GMO free?

Are brewery barley grains GMO free?

Photo Credit: Barn Owl Malt


It’s one of the questions we were asked as part of the evaluation criteria to be accepted as a sourdough bread supplier to grocery store.

The grocery store is seeking to reduce their customer base to genetic modified products.

Spent Goods uses 20% brewery barley grains and 80% certified organic wheat (from Ontario based K2Milling) to make our Sourdough Beer Bread.

Typically, a brewery can use over 30 different varieties of barley grain to craft a single beer type, offering different flavour profiles.

Tracking down the genetic modification implications when growing barley for each seemed pretty daunting so I turned to craft malter, Devin Huffman, from Belleville based Barn Owl Malt to help.

​GMO’s shouldn’t be a concern with respect to barley malt. Currently there are no commercially available GMO barley varieties so there wouldn’t be any risk of GMO content in an all barley malt spent grain.

There would however be concern with GMO content in the spent grain from an adjunct brewery i.e. macro-brewers who routinely use corn and rice, both of which have potential to be GMO grains.

I suppose the only potential source of GMO’s with respect to a craft brewery would be in the case they are using rice hulls as a filter agent, or if they are using liquid sugar additive (but that would typically be a separate process independent of the grain additions).

So when it comes to how barley is currently grown, it seems to be GMO free.

What about use of Genetically modified enzymes during the malting process?

Malting is when malters (like Devin) partially sprout the barley, producing what is known as ‘Malted Barley’

Typically, malters add water to barley grain and allowed to sprout in a malting room. After day 5, sprouting is stopped using heat.  Description of malting process

Larger (macro) breweries are known to use enzymes to assist with the malting process given the volume they deal with. Some of these enzymes could be genetically modified and since its an enzyme, wouldn’t necessarily end up on an ingredient list.

Thus, the concern.

Devin with the answer from a craft malting perspective:

As far as the malting process goes there are generally no additives involved with the possible exception of Giberelic acid – a germination promoting hormone.  This could pose a problem because a malting facility would not typically report the use in any way an end user would see.  In theory the use of G.A. is rare but I kind of expect it’s a little more common than the large malthouse would like to admit.  As a rule craft malthouses do not use G.A. and it is “prohibited” in the craft malting guild charter but I’m not sure there are any food/drug regulations that explicitly prohibit it.
With respect to lab grade enzymes, it shouldn’t be a normal practice for craft brewers to use them.
They’re not required in all grain brewing with the malt providing a naturally derived supply.  Enzyme additions would be much more common in adjunct brewing/macro-breweries and distilleries.  With the exception of malt whiskey production it would be safe to assume any distillery large or small has used enzyme additions to achieve starch/sugar conversion.

Thus, the craft malting process works with naturally derived enzymes to sprout, negating the need for lab grade enzymes to enhance the process.

Sounds like there is less need / no incentives to use genetically modified products when producing in smaller batches.

Another advantage of the craft industry!

A big thank you to Devin for his help.

Please learn more about the malting process and their Ontario grown malts by visiting Barn Owl Malt.

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