Wheat growers, home brewers can connect at Field Festival

URBANA, Ill. – Riggs Beer Company and the Small Grains Improvement Program at the University of Illinois are teaming up from 3 to 5 p.m. on May 21 for their first Field Festival. The event, which organizers hope to host annually at Riggs, welcomes current and curious wheat and barley growers, maltsters, home brewers, and members of the public to tour test plots and learn more about the crops that give beer its distinctive flavor.

Caucasian woman standing in wheat field.
Jessica Rutkoski will present updates on her small grains research at the event.

“The number of barley growers in Illinois is very small, and wheat acreage pales in comparison to corn and soybean,” says Jessica Rutkoski, assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois and co-host of the event. “Part of the goal is to gauge local and regional interest in these crops and to help spread the word about their potential to enhance sustainability and income.”

Riggs uses University of Illinois-bred wheat and corn in many of their beers, but their primary barley source was developed at Virginia Tech. The small grains breeder at Virginia Tech, Nicholas Santantonio, will be on hand at the Field Festival to explain the process and answer questions.

“I've been very happy with the performance of our University of Illinois wheat and corn varieties,” says Matt Riggs, Riggs Beer Company co-owner and alumnus of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois. “It's exciting that the university's small grains breeders are now setting their sights on improving beer's most important grain, barley.”

Attendees to the free event can sample each varietal with a “hot steep” malt tasting. Riggs beers will also be available for purchase, and food trucks will offer special small grains-inspired dinner menus. Riggs Beer Company is located at 1901 S. High Cross Road in Urbana. Pre-registration to the free, family-friendly event is not required.

Read more from the College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences