Malt – The Key Ingredient of Beer

Malt - The Key Ingredient of BeerMany people fail to realize exactly how important malt is in the crafting of beer. As much as 200 grams of malt will end up being used per liter of brewed beer. Not only is it responsible for the alcohol content of the brewed product, but it also creates the base flavor and gives the beer its final color and body. Aside from the skill of the brewer, malt is the most significant factor in determining the end quality of any particular beer.

Malt is, by definition, the germinated and roasted cereal grains that are used to make beer. The most common type of grain used is barley, though others can be used as well. Maize, wheat and rice can all be malted and sorghum is often used to create gluten-free beers. Still, barley is by far the most widely used due to its ability to produce better end results and the fact that it’s cheaper than the alternatives.

The process of malting is a long one that involves several stages. The first part of this process is to allow the grain to germinate. This is done through drying the grains and then storing them for around a month-and-a-half. Then begins the steeping, which involves soaking the grains in water for a few days so that they sprout. After the steeping, the newly sprouted grains will be dried for approximately five days to halt the germination process.

The final stage is the roasting, or kilning, of the grains. This is where the malt will acquire the flavor that transfers over to the beer in the brewing process. Roasting allows the vital enzyme diastase to become active and break down the starch in the grain, converting it to simple sugars. These sugars are then activated upon by the yeast, resulting in the alcoholic content of the brew. After all these stages are complete, what remains is the actual “malt.” Once the grains are malted, they are ready to be ground and mashed, becoming the “wort” solution to which hops will be added for the next stage of brewing.

The roasting process is the stage at which the flavor of the future beer will be determined. By roasting the grains longer or at a higher temperature, the malt will take on different qualities. Longer roasts mean darker beers and shorter roasts produce pale beers, in both flavor and color. Some examples of popular malts include pale, pilsen, black, crystal, amber and lager. Chocolate – a particularly dark-roasted malt – is used in beers such as stouts. Each type of malt produces its own distinctive elements for which beers are named.

Traditionally, malting was done by the beer brewer, but this has changed in modern times. Due to the large amount of malt used as well as the space and labor required to perform the malting process, most brewers now purchase their malts from companies that specialize in roasting. This saves time and allows potential brewers to more easily pick the quality of barley and type of malt that they desire.

Though there are many other stages in the brewing of beer and each has a vital effect on the end product, the malt is where it all begins. It is bar far the most important part of the producing a good beer. Every would-be brewer should make sure to study up on malting so that they truly understand the ingredient that lies at the heart of their craft.