Ha! A query I could have given an instant answer to, and I’m two days late to the party. I actually brewed a beer at a brewery in South Wales last year that used 100 per cent Maris Otter malt, you can read about it here should you be so inclined.
Maris Otter had as one of its grandparents a barley variety called Spratt-Archer, which was itself bred from a pair of ancient “landrace” barley varieties, Spratt and Archer, one of which pops up in the OED, as “sprat-barley, n., a species of barley, Hordeum zeocriton, with short broad ears and long awns,” with a first cite, as “sprot-barleye”, from 1523. The “sprat” part of “sprat barley”, the OED suggests, comes from the fish of the same name: maybe the ears reminded someone of little sprats?.
Where the name Archer comes from I know not, but as Spratt was also known as “battledore barley”, perhaps because those long awns made the ears look like shuttlecocks, maybe it was named for its resemblance to an arrow. (Bit of a WAG, that, I know but another type of landrace barley was called Plumage, so we do seem to have a feathery theme here.)
The word “awn” is interesting, btw: the OED suggets an etymology “apparently < Old Norse ögn, plural agnar , strong”. I’m struggling to find a semantic link: the awns are sometimes called the “beard”, so something to do with beards equalling strength, maybe, so that when the barley showed its beard it was also showing its strength?
“There came three men out of the West, their victory to try
And they have taken a solemn oath, poor Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and ploughed him in, and harrowed clods on his head;
And then they took a solemn oath, poor Barleycorn was dead.
There he lay sleeping in the ground, till rain from the sky did fall:
Then Barleycorn sprang up his head, and so amazed them all.
There he remained till Midsummer, and looked both pale and wan.
Then Barleycorn he got a beard, and so became a man.”
Sir John Barleycorn, traditional.