2 Row vs 6 Row Barley

In this article, we are going to look at 2-row vs 6-row barley. What are their differences, the pros and cons of each as well as providing you with a recipe to compare these grains and see for yourself what characteristics they provide to beer.

The facts are when it comes to making beer, especially as a home brewer in recent years as a result of breeding and improvements in harvesting and malting processes there is not much if any real noticeable difference between two-row and six-row malts, in fact when it comes to arguably the most important aspect i.e their extract value the differences are under 3%.

3 Main Differences 2 Row vs 6 Row

When it comes to the main differences between these grains there are really only 3 of any consequence:

Their appearance (which as you will see affects their starch levels),
Their difficulty level in milling,

And the flavor they provide to the beer.

The difference in the appearance of these two malts comes down to the shape and size of their kernels. The kernels in two-row barley all look the same and are typically the same size whereas six-row barley kernels are not; their kernels on their lateral rows are smaller than the ones found in the center which results in a lower extract value from the smaller kernels.

While it is true that smaller kernels do result in a reduction in extract value, the size of the six-row barley kernel has been increasing due to breeding and as indicated the difference in extract value is now very minimal.

In regards to milling, it is easier to grind two-row kernels in a typical mill used by home brewers. With six-row, you will most likely need to adjust your mill grind settings so they are smaller. This is not a big deal if you are aware of this problem in advance. Before milling a full batch run a handful through the mill and make sure the crush is to your liking.

And lastly, it is believed by many brewers that there is a difference in flavor. Many believe that 2-row provides for a maltier fuller taste and that 6-row provides for a grainer taste, so depending on what flavor you are looking for both malts should be considered.

Pros & Cons Two Row Barley vs Six Row

Both of these grains provide for quality malt that can be used to make beer. Each has its own unique advantage over the other and depending on what type of beer you are brewing should determine which you use.

The following is a list of pros and cons for each to help you determine which you should be using and when.

Two Row Barley

2 Row Pros:

Many people consider two-row to have a softer flavor than six-row. Some believe the latter to provide a little more of a harsh flavor.

Not as much of a concern for home brewers as much as it is for commercial breweries; with two-row it is possible to make more beer from the same amount of grain, this is because of its larger grain size, thinner husk, and higher levels of starch. Two-row kernels are plumper which means they contain more starch.

2 Row Cons:

There are not many cons to two-row and really only one of any significance which is per pound, this malt is actually more expensive. Again on a home brewing scale, this is not much of a concern as the price difference is inconsequential; however, on a commercial scale this is a much bigger deal and why many big breweries do prefer six-row.

6 Row Pros:

It is less expensive per pound

It has a thicker husk, which when it comes to lautering is an advantage as it will improve your filter bed.

From a cultivation standpoint, it yields more per acre which is an obvious advantage for farmers.

6 Row Cons:

It does have a higher level of protein which during different stages of the brewing process can create a haziness in the beer.

It also has a higher tannin level which can create astringent flavors.

Due to the size of the six-row kernel, it can cause issues when milling if you are not aware of this issue. Mills should be set to a smaller grind

Traditionally it was used in American beers, if brewing a traditional English ale two-row is preferred.

2 Row vs 6 Row Beer Recipe 
a beer made from 2 row barley next to one made from 6 row barley
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Just like anything else when it comes to making beer, you can read all about the different flavors that different grains, hops and yeast provide but until you actually experience it for yourself you will not truly grasp the differences. Our recommendation is to brew the exact same beer using two-row for one batch and six-row for the other. Then compare them side by side and see what you think.

The following is a recipe that will let the characteristics of the grains shine through so you are able to see what each brings to the beer. It is not quite a SMASH beer (single malt and single hop) as it uses two varieties of hops, but it only uses one malt so it will give you a great feel for the characteristics that each imparts to the beer.

Estimated ABV 5.5%
Estimated OG 1.051
Estimated FG 1.010
IBUs 19
SRM 4.3
Batch Size 5 Gallons

Grain Bill:

11 lbs 2-row or 6-row

Hop Schedule:

1 oz Liberty (60 min)
1 oz Saaz (10 min)

Yeast: Your favorite American ale yeast will work, we prefer Fermentis – Safale – American Ale Yeast US-05

Instructions: Mash at 150℉ for 60 minutes. Sparge with 170℉ water. Boil for 60 minutes. Add hops as per the schedule above. Add whirlfloc at 15 mins left in the boil. Chill wort to yeast pitching temperature. Transfer to fermenter and pitch yeast. Ferment for 10 days. Cold crash beer for 48 hours. Add gelatin fining agent if you wish to help with clearing the beer. Bottle or Keg.

The Final Word

When it comes to 2 row vs 6 row thanks to the advances in breeding, harvesting, and the malting process it is no longer the case that one barley is better than the other, it really comes down to your preference. Our recommendation is to brew the recipe provided and learn for yourself what different characteristics each brings to the beer. It is our view that each has its place when it comes to making beer, depending on what style and characteristics you are looking for.

P.S. Be sure to take advantage of our offer on the side of the blog or the bottom if you are on your smart device; to get access to Robb’s top 5 recipes from his brewpub. Cheers!

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