MSU professor revives 100-year-old barley for Michigan craft beer

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A Michigan State professor dug into the university’s agriculture archives to revive a 100-year-old barley seed called Spartan barley.

Spartan barley was developed by Frank Spragg, a plant breeder at the Michigan Agricultural College, known today as Michigan State University. Originally developed as a Michigan-indigenous barley strain for Michigan brewers, many breweries in the state used this barley strain in the early 1900’s.


But when prohibition was voted in, brewing halted. That is until Russell Freed, MSU’s doctor of crop science, decided to revive the strain.

“I got in touch with the USDA germplasm curator for barley in Idaho, Aberdeen Idaho,” Freed said, “and he sent me five grams of Spartan barley.”

Doctor Freed gave 80 seeds to graduate student Andrew Wiersma to plant and grow.

“I harvested them and we call thresh them to separate the chaff from barley seed,” said Wiersma. “And then that was the seed that was used to go into field plots the following year.”

After its harvest, the barley is sent to microbreweries across the state. It is then mixed with yeast, water, and hops as the first part of the beer-making process.

Dr. Freed said he was flattered when he heard what they wanted to call the brew.

“Russ is the one that revived this thing, why don’t we call it Russ’s Revival?” he recalls the conversation.

Steve Berthel, the head brewer for New Holland Brewing Company, is the first brewmaster in the state to create this one-hundred percent Michigan craft beer made from Spartan barley. He said his mission of supporting local businesses will rejuvenate communities in Michigan.


“Stay out of box stores, go to mom and pop shops, you know?” Berthel said. “Support the people that are working hard to make your life better with good things to put in your body, and that should go with your beer as well.”


Russ’s Revival is now on tap at local East Lansing bars including Crunchy’s, HopCat, and Dublin Square.

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