Species conservation through the art of brewing

Research shows suitability of the whiskered brome for beer production

27-Jul-2023 - Germany
Pedro Gerstberger

Spikes of the whiskered brome.

The whiskered brome (Bromus grossus) is an ancient cereal species that is known to have been cultivated and used as a food resource as early as the Bronze Age. Today, however, it is threatened with extinction. In joint research work, the University of Bayreuth, the Bezirkslehrgut Bayreuth and the company IREKS in Kulmbach have investigated whether the grain from this species is suitable for Brewing beer. The result is two tasty beers: a Pilsner and a Hefe-Weizen.

Christian Wißler

Stefan Seewald, Oberfrankenstiftung; Dr. Pedro Gerstberger, Plant Ecology, University of Bayreuth; Dipl.-Ing. Matthias Hansen, IREKS, Kulmbach; Thomas Steiner, UniBrauTechnik e.V. and doctoral student, University of Bayreuth (from left).

The beers were sampled on the campus of the University of Bayreuth on July 20, 2023, at the successful conclusion of the project funded by the Upper Franconia Foundation (Oberfrankenstiftung). Beer production could offer a way to preserve the whiskered brome in the future.

"Over the course of the last few millennia, the whiskered brome has become increasingly adapted to the special conditions of arable farming. Rapid germination and a very high germination rate make it particularly suitable for the production of brewing malt. The grains of whiskered brome are almost as large as those of other cereals," explains Dr. Pedro Gerstberger from the Plant Ecology research group at the University of Bayreuth, who led the research project.

A major advantage of the whiskered brome is that – unlike wild grasses – the grains do not fall out of the panicle after ripening, but remain attached to the plant. This means they can be harvested without loss. "Because thick trespass does not form its own seed bank in the soil, it must be reseeded annually. This is precisely where the opportunity lies to ensure the preservation of this rare and endangered plant species through permanent use for beer production. The whiskered brome is strictly protected by the European Union's Habitats Directive and the Federal Species Protection Regulations of Germany, but without its steady cultivation it would ultimately become extinct," says Gerstberger.

The grains used for the research project at the University of Bayreuth came from a cultivation of the whiskered brome on the grounds of the Bayreuth District Teaching Institute (Bayreuther Bezirkslehrgut), which belongs to the Agricultural Teaching Institutes of the District of Upper Franconia. The seeds used were provided by the botanical gardens in Bonn and Frankfurt am Main. The company IREKS, an internationally active company in the food industry in Kulmbach, took over the production of the brewing malt under the direction of Dipl.-Ing. Matthias Hansen.

Finally, a total of 45 liters of pilsner were produced at the Process Biotechnology research group, which has broad expertise in the art of brewing and its own modern brewing equipment, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Ruth Freitag. 40 litres of Hefe-Weizen were brewed by the team led by Dr. Benjamin Gilfedder, Limnological Station of the University of Bayreuth. The result, two full-bodied craft beers, was enjoyed by all participants of the tasting – especially the members of the association "UniBrauTechnik e.V.", which had been founded on the campus of the University of Bayreuth in 2012.

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