We suggest multi-parental nested association mapping as a valuable innovation in barley genetics, which increases the power to map quantitative trait loci and assists in extending genetic diversity of the elite barley gene pool. Plant genetic resources are a key asset to further improve crop species. The nested association mapping (NAM) approach was introduced to identify favorable genes in multi-parental populations. Here, we report toward the development of the first explorative barley NAM population and demonstrate its usefulness in a study on mapping quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for leaf rust resistance. The NAM population HEB-5 was developed from crossing and backcrossing five exotic barley donors with the elite barley cultivar 'Barke,' resulting in 295 NAM lines in generation BC1S1. HEB-5 was genetically characterized with 1,536 barley SNPs. Across HEB-5 and within the NAM families, no deviation from the expected genotype and allele frequencies was detected. Genetic similarity between 'Barke' and the NAM families ranged from 78.6 to 83.1 %, confirming the backcrossing step during population development. To explore its usefulness, a screen for leaf rust (Puccinia hordei) seedling resistance was conducted. Resistance QTLs were mapped to six barley chromosomes, applying a mixed model genome-wide association study. In total, four leaf rust QTLs were detected across HEB-5 and four QTLs within family HEB-F23. Favorable exotic QTL alleles reduced leaf rust symptoms on two chromosomes by 33.3 and 36.2 %, respectively. The located QTLs may represent new resistance loci or correspond to new alleles of known resistance genes. We conclude that the exploratory population HEB-5 can be applied to mapping and utilizing exotic QTL alleles of agronomic importance. The NAM concept will foster the evaluation of the genetic diversity, which is present in our primary barley gene pool.