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Barley is a grain that is the primary ingredient of brewing. A distinction is normally made between two-row and six-row. Two-row is most often used in beer, while six-row is commonly used for distillation of alcohol.

More than 60% of U.S. barley crop is used each year in the domestic beer market. Before being used for alcohol production, barley must be malted.

Cultivated barley is descended from wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) which still can be found in the Middle East. Both forms are diploid (2↑14 chromosomes). All variants of barley produce viable seed when crossed and are thus considered to belong to one and the same species today. The major difference between wild and domesticated barley is the brittle rachis of the former, which is conductive to self-propagation. The earliest finds of barley come from Epi-Paleolithic sites the Levant, beginning in the Natufian. The first domesticated barley has been found in the aceramic neolithic layers (PPN B) of Tell Abu Hureyra in Syria. The domestication seems to be contemporaneous to that of wheat. Barley, as an ancient and central gift of the earth, had ritual significance, probably from the earliest stages of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The preparatory kykeon or mixed drink of the initiates, prepared from barley and herbs, was referred to in the Homeric hymn to Demeter, who was also called "Barley-mother". Greek practice was to dry the barley groats and roast them before preparing the porridge, according to Pliny's Natural History (xviii.72). This produces a malt that soon ferments and becomes slightly alcoholic. Varieties

Barley may be divided into two sorts, fall and spring; to which may be added a bastard variety, called bear or bigg, which affords similar nutriment or substance, though of inferior quality. The spring is cultivated like oats; the fall, like fall wheat. Early barley, under various names, was formerly sown in Britain upon lands that had been previously summer-fallowed, or were in high condition. The most proper seed season for spring barley is any time in March or April, though we have seen good crops produced, the seed of which was sown at a much later period. Barley can be divided by the number of kernal rows in the head. There are three types; two-row barley (Hordeum distichum), four-row (Hordeum tetrastichum L. and six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare var hexastichum Körn.) according to the traditional terminology. In two-row barley only one flower is fertile, two in the four-row variety, in the six-row variety all three. Two-row barley is the oldest form, wild barley having two-rows as well. Two-row barley has a lower protein content than six-row barley but a higher enzyme content. High protein barley is best suited for animal feed or malt that has a large adjunct content. Two-row barley is best suited for pure malts. There are naked and hulled barleys, the hulled barleys being the older forms. Barley is widely adaptable and is currently a major crop of the temperate and tropical areas. Uses

Malted barley is a key ingredient in beer and whisky production.