Water uptake by mature barley grains initiates germination and is the first stage in the malting process. Here we have investigated the effects of starchy endosperm cell wall thickness on water uptake, together with the effects of varying amounts of the wall polysaccharide, (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan. In the latter case, we examined mutant barley lines from a mutant library and transgenic barley lines in which the (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan synthase gene, HvCslF6, was down-regulated by RNA interference. Neither cell wall thickness nor the levels of grain (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan were significantly correlated with water uptake but are likely to influence modification during malting. However, when a barley mapping population was phenotyped for rate of water uptake into grain, quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis identified specific regions of chromosomes 4H, 5H and 7H that accounted for approximately 17%, 18% and 11%, respectively, of the phenotypic variation. These data indicate that variation in water uptake rates by elite malting cultivars of barley is genetically controlled and a number of candidate genes that might control the trait were identified under the QTL. The genomics data raise the possibility that the genetic variation in water uptake rates might be exploited by breeders for the benefit of the malting and brewing industries.