A drop in the quality of some UK barley crops has left brewers battling to keep pints clear.

Droughts in parts of England have pushed up nitrogen levels in some crops, which can result in cloudy beer. The problem is one more worry for an industry already dealing with a 116% hike in the price of malting barley over the past two years [Mintec].

‘Punk’ brewer BrewDog said it had been forced to switch from single strains of malting barley to a blend in the past few months to offset the higher nitrogen content.

“We’ve been working hard to make sure the new season malt doesn’t affect the flavour and quality of the beer,” said co-founder Martin Dickie. “If we’d stuck with 100% of the malt we used to use, it probably would have done.”

Oldershaw Brewery said maltsters across the market were also likely to shift to a blend.

“We use a variety of malts and our maltsters use crops from both winter and spring barley to try and avoid the issue,” said co-owner Kathy Britton. “At the moment, it’s OK but we’ll probably see maltsters start to use a blend of malts to keep nitrogen levels down.”

Britton added that brewers might have to increase their use of finings - which are often added to alcoholic drinks to improve the clarity and quality of a product - to counter the increase in nitrogen.

One maltster who supplies barley for a major UK brewer confirmed it had recorded higher levels of nitrogen this year.

“Ideally most brewers are looking for 1.5% maximum nitrogen content in our malts - we’re not going to be able to do that,” he said, adding that nitrogen was averaging at 1.6% but that certain maris otter barley crops had been as high as 2%.

“At the moment we’re managing the higher levels of nitrogen, but the next couple of months will be the test once we start getting some of the new crop out to our customers and letting them brew with it,” he added.