Brewing And Distilling: What To Look For In Malt

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Every Maltster on earth, worth their weight in gold, can tell you not only what a good malt tastes like in the final product, but also how it looks, smell, and acts.

Since malted cereal grains are the meat and potatoes of beer. They provide the sugars that are fermented by the yeast to create alcohol and CO2, sure.

However, more importantly they are the primary source of beer color and contribute significantly to flavor and mouthfeel. The most effective ways to brew a certain style of beer are through selecting proper malt and yeast. Hops and water matter too, but any brewery in the US will be especially scrutinous of the malt they select for their operation.

Malt: From Farm to Glass

Before brewing begins, even before the mashing stage takes place, or the water begins to boil, a solid survey of malt must occur.

Being such a key ingredient for the nation’s increasingly present craft brewing industry, it may surprise beer drinkers to know that nearly all domestically malted barley comes just from a few companies including Rahr, Briess, Cargill, and Great Western.

That trend seems to be changing. Just as Anheuser Busch seemed to lose the market share almost a decade ago, the malting company market share has split to divide and conquer. Emerging now is the age of the craft maltster.

In an almost analogous wave, as craft beer consumers became aware of something more satisfactory than the age old pilsner, craft brew houses started to seek out ingredients beyond the norm.

Thus, selecting malt that is independently crafted becomes an act of scrutiny.

Brewers and Maltsters alike need to know what to look for when it comes time to get from farm to glass.

Maltster In The USA

Quality malts come from several key factors. If something isn’t working right with ingredients a homebrew can typically fudge the process to make it work. This is because it’s a smaller batch, and the difficulties are lesser.

Also, us homebrewers will drink practically anything.

However, when it comes time to take a beer to market, there’s a slew of issues that could arise. Bad, someone in the taproom makes an unpleasant face after their first sip. Worst, an entire batch is lost.

Maltsters - either independent or brewery sponsored, have farmers send samples of their barley to the maltster who checks out the samples to make sure that they can be malted to the exact specifications of the brew they are destined for. Many are rejected or diverted for use in other brews or malted to be on sold to other breweries who are looking for a particular variety.

When the barley has been malted, samples are sent to the brewery itself to be checked out in the labs there to evaluated its colour, diastatic power, etc. Small trial brews may be done. Based on this the brewer knows how to adjust the recipe to ensure the colour, strength and flavour profile of the brew remain consistent.

Three Qualities To Look For In Crafted Malt

Spotting issues with the malt before it gets to the kiln is an important aspect of the malt house.

If they don’t get it right then the issues are transferred directly to your brew. Here’s a few problems that can occur when your malt is going through the process.

Lodging is a phenomenon that describes the barley stalk bending over and leads to an inconsistent yield, of which the maltster must be aware. This is because if there is too much moisture during harvest, barley can be susceptible to fungal growth that causes “scab” (fusarium head blight).

Scab produces vomitoxin, which sounds like it could result in a particularly bad 24 hours, but just means that the barley is unfit for brewing and animal feed. Still a pretty big deal in regards to malting process though.

An outbreak of scab in the 1990s threw many growers into bankruptcy and led to dark days in the brewing industry. Meticulous selection dictates what the maltster, and ultimately the brewer, will be up against.

PHSD is another quality that can negatively affect your malt. Excess moisture from rainfall or overwatering can causes the kernels to begin germinating before they’ve even reached the steeping tank. Barley with PHSD can be malted but must be noted and isolated as it will behave differently in the malthouse and diminish the shelf life of the malt. This is a key factor for malt suppliers to look out for.

Dimethyl Sulfate is one thing that maltsters have a direct influence on. Once the barley is in the hands of the maltsters, the way they steep and kiln is based on the consistency of the barley. Curing barley malt at higher temperatures reduces S-methylmethionine, which is a precursor to Dimethyl Sulfate.

These are just a few of the things to look for when sourcing grains from a craft malt house. In fact any time you go about buying brewing supplies bulk, know how the ingredients will affect your batch. Keep reading our blog for more information on how to be a scrutinous brewmaster, and voice your own experiences in the comments. Thanks for reading!