Top of the hops: It's time that malted barley got a bit more love

 

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Indy Lifestyle Online

In 1966, as any English football fan will attest, was a very different world. The Rolling Stones were young, there were 240 pence to the pound and a new malted barley – Maris Otter – had just emerged on to the market.

Malted barley? Not, I admit, the sexiest of subjects. But given the continued focus on hops, it's perhaps time that beer's key ingredient got a bit more love. Now seems the perfect moment.

The best breweries use the best barley. The Kernel, for example, has always used Maris Otter (Huddersfield's finest, Magic Rock, uses another, Golden Promise). It's a staple of many classic English beers, like Windsor and Eton's Guardsman: 11 out of the last 15 of Camra's Champion Beers of Britain have been made with it.

Critics say its main quality is ease of use for the brewer, but many educated drinkers – among them Mark Dorber, cellarman and an expert on beer flavour – believe it does taste better than its rivals, citing its creamy, biscuity flavour and its softer, rounder and fuller character. Tests carried out by the Brewing Research Foundation a few years ago backed that assessment.

That's not the only thing planned to celebrate the anniversary; there's plenty more, including a festival of beers made with Maris Otter, which will happen in September.

Having been on the endangered list back in the Eighties, Maris Otter is now thriving – which is more, alas, than can be said for the England football team.

Three to try

Slurp

Eton Guardsman

An excellent twist on the classic English drop, this is both smooth and satisfyingly bitter.

£2.55 for 50cl, beermerchants.com; 4.2 per cent ABV

Sip

The Kernel Nelson Sauvin IPA

Soft, biscuity Maris Otter provides the perfect canvas for these Kiwi hops.

£2.99 for 330ml, alesbymail.co.uk; 6.8 per cent ABV

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Coniston No 9

Camra's Champion in 2012, this barley wine is full of dried-fruit character and warming booziness.

Coming soon at conistonbrewery.com; 8.5 per cent

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