What’s the Difference Between 2-Row & 6-Row Barley?

Beer is one of the oldest drinks in the world, so it’s not surprising that beer making is a pretty simple, natural process. In extremely basic terms, to make beer, what you do is boil then ferment some grains into water.

The grains that are most commonly used for brewing are called cereal grains. Cereal grains come from the grass family. Any grass that is harvested for its edible grains is considered a cereal grain.

The most common cereal grains used in bear brewing are barley and wheat. Other, less common grains are corn and rice. The grain that the brewery chooses depends on a number of things, primarily location, tradition, and flavor -- each grain has its own distinct flavor.

Even different types of the same grain can taste different. 2-row and 6-row barley is a good example of this.
What are 2-Row Barley and 6-Row Barley?
They’re exactly what they sound like. 2-row barley grows only two columns of barley kernels, while 6-row barley grows 6 columns of kernels. Both 2-row and 6-row barley are common in the US, but in Europe, most brewers prefer to use 2-row, since 6-row doesn’t grow locally.

Both of these types of barley are called malting barley because they are used to make malt for beers and other drinks. This is opposed to barley that is grown as feed for farm animals. For more info on malts and barley’s place in beer-making, check out our “What Role Does Malt Play in Brewing Beer” article.

The differences between 2 and 6-row barley may seem miniscule or pointless, but professional brewers and serious beer drinkers see the differences as significant.

2-row barley often creates a fuller, maltier flavor than 6-row, which makes grainier beers. On a smaller scale, 2-row barley has a lower protein and higher starch content, plus a thinner husk. This means that more of the barley’s nutrients can be used up, allowing brewers to actually produce about 1-2% more beer than with 6-row barley.

The downside of 2-row barley is that it tends to be on the pricier side.

6-row barley on the other hand, has a higher enzyme content than 2-row, which leads to more fermentable sugars. It also has less carbohydrates, making it a slightly healthier option out of the two.
Final Thoughts
2-row barley is widely known as the best barley for brewing and malting. If you go anywhere outside of the US you’ll notice that practically all beers are made with 2-row barley. 6-row is only used as animal feed.

In the US, however, 6-row is pretty common for beer brewing. Barley breeding over the last few decades have left little difference between American 2 and 6-row barley. Plus, 6-row grows naturally in many states.

Whether you’re planning on being a picky barley beer connoisseur or just want to have a little more beer knowledge in your back pocket, now you know the difference between 2 and 6-row barley.
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