Getting to Know: Malt

Cory's picture
Mon, 11/28/2016 - 17:20 -- Cory

Beer is made of these core ingredients: barley/malt, hops, water, and yeast. In this blog post, I'll be writing about malt and some of what I've been reading in Robert Moser's Tasting Beer. First off, barley is the grain of choice for making beer, although other options exist. But regular old barley isn't in a good condition for releasing starches for making alcohol. Barley first needs to be malted.

Making Malt

First, barley is soaked in water for about 24 hours, or until it reaches 45% water content. The grain is pulled from the water and allowed to cool and dry. During this process, the grains will start to sprout. This growth and cracking of the shell is vital to getting what brewers want from the malted barley. The grain is then kilned to complete the drying process and to roast the grain to the desired darkness. It is possible to create two different malts of similar color but different flavors by varying the moisture content during kilning. If roasted dry, there will be a sharp, biscuit-like toastiness. If roasted moist, there is more of a toffee-like richness.

Malt Types

Base Malts
These are kilned lightly.

  • Pilsner - palest malt available
  • Pale Ale Malt - classic for pale ales
  • Vienna Malt - continental malt used for making ambers like Oktoberfest
  • Mild Ale Malt - classic base for dark British ales
  • Munich Malt - brewing deep amber beers; sweet and caramelly

Kilned or Color Malts
Used in small amounts, perhaps up to 20% of malt bill.

  • Aromatic/Melanoidin/Dark Munich - brown/amber beers; sweet and caramelly
  • Amber/Biscuit - sharp, brown, toasty
  • Brown Malt - classic for porter; smooth to sharp roastiness
  • Pale Chocolate - various uses; medium-sharp roastiness

Crystal or Caramel Malt
Wet malt is stewed at 150 degrees F. The result is a glassy, crunchy texture and a heavy, sweet, caramelly flavor. You can also detect fat, raisiny, or other dried fruit aromas with these malts.

Roasted Malts & Grains
Chocolate and various shades of black malts are listed here. These have very similar aromas and flavors of coffee, chocolate, and other highly roasted foods. These typically make up about 10% of the recipe.

  • Chocolate - sharp roastiness for darker beers
  • Black - classic for modern porters and stouts
  • Rostmalz - German black malt; sometimes dehusked for smoother flavor
  • Roast barley - roasted, unmalted barley is classic in Irish stouts

Adjunct Grains
Adjuncts include: wheat, rice, corn, rye, and oats. Use of wheat, oats, and rye adds a creamy texture and improves head retention. Corn and rice are used as a cheaper ingredient than barley.

Adding adjuncts to the mash requires changes to how the beer is cooked. Sometimes rice hulls are needed as a filtering material. Otherwise, adjuncts need to be cooked in a way to gelatinize the starches.

Next time...I will write about how the malt is mashed to create wort. After all, "brewers make wort, yeast makes beer."