For the love of grain… my sexy and mysterious ‘MALT’!

And…. I am back as promised with a more serious and nuancedseries that will highlight processes and detail of Brewing. Now, going back tothe very important and age old concept within the German brewing industry ofthe Purity Law or ‘Reinheitsgebot’ that strictly allowed only Malt, Water andHops as the ingredients in beer, let us take the ‘Malt’ in detail consideration.

So in this article I will shed some light on the followingquestions:

  1. What is ‘Malt’ and how is it prepared?
  2. What is the biochemical conversion associatedwith the malting process?
  3. What are the grains used in malting and what arethe main types?
  4. What are specialty malts?

I shall try and not promise to be all technical and beernerdy, although it will be difficult! So kindly bear with me; so most of us inthose younger years must have secretly snuck into the pantry and dunked afistful into the chocolaty malt jar and just licked it, it has thecharacteristic sugary and sweet taste which is far more pronounced anddifferent than our normal table sugar which is a highly purified form ofSucrose, kindly note I am NOT talking about Glucose, because Glucose in itselfhas no taste!

Anyway, getting back to our impending topic here; if I have to give the textbook definition of Malting: Malting can be defined as thestepwise conversion of the grain to convertible and digestible source of sugarwhich is converted into alcohol during the process of brewing.

So one thing we have very well understood that the raw unprocessed grain must be converted into simpler and convertible sugar so that it easier for the yeast to digest this ‘substrate’ into energy and alcohol; make no mistake what we perceive as process to get alcohol is nothing but an alternate energy conversion pathway for the yeast because, they are what we beer nerds call as selective aerobes i.e to say they need minute to very minute quantities of oxygen for survival.

The basic outline of malting; a simplified and lightly technical diagram.

The above flowchart summarizes perfectly the conversion of the raw grain or barley into malt that is ready to be milled into the ‘Grist’ which will go into what we us brewers call as ‘Mashing’. So if I have to point out then the questions which I raised in 1 and 2 are perfectly answered with the help of this diagram!

Now let us look at the very broad categorization of malts. But first I will summarize the biochemical changes that take place in the malt itself. The action of heat has always been beneficial to many important changes that take place in many materials. It finally affects the taste, aroma and appearance of the beer. Aside from contributing the flavor and color compounds, the malt also contributes the very important FAN which is the ‘Free Amino Nitrogen’ that is used by the Yeast as substrate during the its very brief growth phase before stepping into the actual stage or biochemical process of fermentation.

The types of malt which mainly categorized on their kilning (roasting)

The image above explains the types of malt used in brewing. These are mainly categories by the level of kilning one uses to produce the degrees of color on the actual grain. The lesser the degree of kilning the more usage of the malt as the base malt in a recipe; more is the usable substrates during the short exponential phase of the Yeast. Some very good examples of base malt are Vienna malt, pale ale malt, 2-row and six-row barley malt (compared to 2-row it has more nitrogen and can cause more foaming as well) The more the degree of kilning on the malt, the more is the usage of the malt as a specialty malt which will not contribute the fermentable sugars during the conversion stage. The types of specialty malts are chocolate malt, roasted barley, amber malt etc. The German giant malt producer manufactures its own signature styles of malt like Belgian style ale malts, Weyermann carabelge, Weyermann oak smoked wheat malt. So as you can see, barley is not the only source of malt, but you also have wheat, sorghum and rye (mainly in brewing carried out in the US).

I have summarized the very basics of malting without having to dive into the core technical aspect of malting as a biochemical science, in this one mustn’t get  the impression of a boring tinder date when one in a moment of heat and naivety swipes right on a seemingly interesting profile! The next time we shall be dealing in detail with Water, a resource which constitutes close to 95% of the beer. Till stay hungry and stay curious… Prost everyone!!!

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