The malting Process
Making your beers great
Behind every exceptional beer lies an essential ingredient that serves as the backbone of its flavour and character – malt. Malted barley, the result of a fascinating and age-old process called malting, provides the crucial sugars, colours, and flavours that lay the foundation for the art of brewing. In this in-depth article, we will delve into the intricacies of the malting process and uncover how this transformative technique turns humble barley into the magical ingredient that fuels the world of brewing.
From Seed to Sprout: The Journey of Barley The journey of malting begins with barley, a versatile cereal grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Selecting high-quality barley is crucial, as it directly influences the final character of the malt and the beer it helps create. Varieties of barley chosen for malting are carefully bred to possess specific characteristics desired by brewers, such as high enzyme content and starch composition. Norfolk is one of the top areas in the world for its quality of barley due to the specific microclimate near the north coast.
As you may know, our barley is grown on site which is great becasue we see it from first shoots right through to harvest.
Join us on one of our tours to find out more https://wildcraftbrewery.co.uk/collections/brewery-tours
Steeping: Awakening the Dormant Seed
The first step in the malting process is steeping, where the barley seeds are soaked in water. This hydration awakens the dormant seeds, triggering germination.
During this phase, the barley absorbs water and begins to sprout. Steeping lasts for around 48 hours, but the duration can vary depending on the barley's condition and the desired malt characteristics.
Unleashing Enzymatic Power
After steeping, the barley enters the germination phase. The moistened seeds are spread out on malting floors or in germination boxes, where they are allowed to germinate further. As the seedlings grow, enzymes within the barley activate and start converting complex starches into more manageable sugars. These enzymes, particularly amylases and proteases, are instrumental in the brewing process, as they play a key role in breaking down starches and proteins during mashing and fermentation.
Once the barley has undergone sufficient germination, the process is halted to preserve the malt's enzymatic activity and prevent excessive sprouting.
Kilning: Halting Growth and Developing Flavour
This is achieved by drying the barley in a kiln. The kilning process is a pivotal stage that not only halts germination but also imparts unique flavours and colours to the malt. Kilning temperatures and duration are carefully controlled to achieve desired characteristics, ranging from pale malts used in lagers to darker malts found in stouts and porters. Low-temperature kilning results in pale malt, while higher temperatures create darker, roasted malts. The use of direct or indirect heat during kilning also affects the malt's flavour profile, with direct heating producing more intense caramelization and roasty flavours.
Milling: Cracking the Code
After kilning, the malted barley is ready for the final step in the malting process: milling. Milling involves crushing the malted barley into a coarse powder known as grist. This process exposes the malt's starchy core, making it more accessible for the mashing process during brewing. This stage can either happen at the maltings or sometimes at the brewery, depending if they have the equipment. With it being a very messy process, we prefer to leave it to the maltsters and have it delivered already done.
Please note most of the pictures in this post were taken at Simpsons Malt in Norfolk. We would like to thank them for the tour and incredibly informative talk!
The malting process is an artful and intricate dance between science and tradition, transforming barley seeds into malt, the backbone of brewing. Each step, from steeping to kilning, contributes to the rich diversity of malts available to brewers, enabling them to create an endless array of beer styles, each with its unique flavour, colour, and character. The next time you savour a pint of Wildcraft beer, take a moment to appreciate the magic of malting – the hidden alchemy that brings forth the flavours and complexities that make beer one of humanity's oldest and most cherished beverages.
Head recipe maker and bloke that gets bored too easily.