MALT: The Backbone of Beer
So we’ve already talked about hops, let’s get to the next main ingredient in beer: MALT! Okay so we need to clear something up first. Malt is actually a verb and a process but in the brew world it’s generally understood as the grain used in beer. It’s better to understand malt as “grain that has been malted”
What is malt? – Malt is one of the four main ingredients of beer (the other are hops, water, and yeast). It refers to the roasted grain in a beer recipe
What is it for? – Malt adds flavor, sweetness, and color to beer. It’s what adds carbs to beer, giving it the classic “liquid bread” nickname.
What is the malting process? – Let’s keep it simple. First, grain is picked and allowed to dry. Water is then added so the kernels sprout. Then heat is added to stop germination and finish drying out the grain. The temperature and time used in the roasting process creates different malt. This whole process allows for the starches in the grain kernels to begin to convert to sugar but stops them before they can grow into new plants. This sugar is key to the brewing process since it’s what the yeast will feed on! (Spoiler alert: yeast is my next Beer Byte!)
What type of grains are malted? – Most brewers use malted barley in their brews. Wheat or rye are also common but barley is definitely the king. But any grain can undergo this process. Over 90% of malted grains processed around the world end up in beer! Some beer are even made with unmalted grains
Beermaking Term: Grain bill refers to all the grains used in a specific beer recipe
Is malt used for anything else? – There are plenty of other things that use malt! Whiskey also uses malt (think a blended vs a single malt scotch). Malted grains can also be used in baking, either as the ground up grain or as an extract that takes the form of a sweet syrup. Malt is also found in treats like malted milk balls, malted milkshakes and Ovaltine. Malts are more common than I thought!
Are there different kinds of malt? – Just like hops, there’s a huge variety in the types of malt used in brewing. The type of malt used is really determined by the type of beer one is making. The majority of the malts used in a recipe are called base malts which make up 60-100% of the grain bill. But their flavor can vary wildly based on type of grain used, where its grown, and how it is malted. These base malts also effect the color of the beer! Pale Malt is the most commonly used variety which gives the resulting beer a nice golden color. Malt that is roasted (kilned) for longer are darker and are used in dark beers like stouts. Some of these darker grains are called specialty malts and are used in lesser quantities than base malts. The biggest difference between base and specialty malts is that base malts must undergo the mashing process to add fermentable sugars to the beer. Specialty malts add color, aroma, and flavor and only need to be steeped in hot water to add their deliciousness to the beer. Science!
What about non-barley beers? – until the early 2000s, beer needed to have at least 25% barley to be considered a beer. But with increasing interest in gluten-free beer, that definition has changed to include any cereal grains. Now, brewers make beer using sorghum, millet, buckwheat, corn, rice and more! In fact, some breweries are completely gluten-free! I’ve personally been to Aurochs Brewery a completely gluten-free brewery in Pittsburgh and had the Session IPA made with millet and quinoa. Fascinating, right?
I’m already learning so much about beer! I can’t wait to dive into yeast next month! Cheers!