A lot of emphasis is put on hops and yeast when it comes to brewing a delicious beer. Water and malt are often treated as a commodity product. But, both of those ingredients play an incredibly important role when it comes to brewing a delicious beer.
In doing some research into malt I discovered something quite eye opening. There exists a world of craft malt! This is a world where you can get unique flavors and aromas from malt that you otherwise can’t find from maltsters that produce mass quantities.
I wanted to learn what made craft malt unique and and how malt could be more than just a basic ingredient in beer. So I reached out to Admiral Maltings where I spoke with co-founder Dave Mclean. His knowledge and passion for malt helped inspire me use more craft malt in my recipe’s.
Floor Malting a Craft Malt Process
Malting is a process that assists the brewer in breaking down proteins, starches and complex sugars into more simple sugars. And if I’m being honest a lot of the technical bits went a bit over my head. This is a very basic understanding of what is going on during the malting process.
There are three stages in the malting process.
- Steeping, or getting the grains wet.
- Germination, that breaks down the sugars whereby the seed begins to sprout.
- Drying, which when it comes to malting is often referred to as kilning. Kilning dries malt at lower temperatures rather than roasting at higher temperatures.
Craft maltsters germinate malt to convert sugars using the time honored tradition of floor malting. This is where the malt is laid out on the floor and gently raked two times a day.
Dave explains that modern malting germinates and kilns the grain all in one very large vessel. Consistency is monitored and a lot of air is blown into the vessel to maintain the temperature. While this modern method produces excellent quality malt that is consistent some interesting research is being done about the benefits of floor malting. While there is nothing currently concrete, it is thought that microbiomes exist on the surface of the grains and a large surface area can add complexity.
This large surface area more readily exists in floor malt since mass produced malt is done in a large compact vessel where surface area is reduced.
How to Choose Malt for Beer When Building a Recipe
The best way to craft a recipe is to begin with the BJCP guideline specifications. From there you will need to choose malts that will get the color and desired initial gravity. I like to do this with the Beersmith program.
However getting the style, color and gravity correct is only one part of the equation and Dave has a few tips on how to make the most of your malt.
You will need to perform a sensory analysis and if your comparing 5 different pilsner malts and they are very similar you will need to do a hot steep in order to compare them. This is essentially making a tea from the malt.
Using this process you can better understand what the malt will contribute to the beer. I suggest you don’t mix the malts but understand the individual contribution of each malt. Over time you will train your brain to get a sense of the contribution by tasting the wort from the hot steep method.
If you are interested in the hot steep method I actually tried one out before I even talked to Dave, however after speaking with Dave I would rather try out the malt individual rather than mixing multiple malts like in the video below.
Admiral Maltings Most Popular Malt
Admiral Maltings has a pretty good variety of malts that you can check out at their website. I really want to try them all but I had to ask which one was their most popular malt.
Admiral Pils is their most popular and versatile malt. They sell it by the bag from their website and onsite, so it may be difficult to try out for homebrewers. However, Oak Barrel a bay area homebrew supply store, has a lot of inventory turnover and sells nearly all of Admiral Maltings grain in smaller quantities to homebrewers.
How Long Does Craft Malt Last and How it Should be Milled
When stored properly malt can last a very long time. Whether its crushed or uncrushed. However, it will last longer when stored uncrushed. The best way to store it is in a cool and dry place. Many homebrewers utilize air tight pet food storage containers to keep their grains fresh when buying in bulk.
Craft malt does not last any longer or shorter than mass produced malt does. It is typically fresher when purchased than mass produced malt due to smaller supply chains. Craft malt typically has a best by date of 6 months from when it was originally malted. This is because volatile flavor and aroma compounds degrade over time.
Dave explained that craft malt will last anywhere from one year to a year and a half. The math will typically come out the same on the quality between that timeframe. But, the freshest grain is where you will get the most fragile compounds that will add the most complexity to your beer. This will be within the 6 month window.
When Brewing with grain within the 6 month window many homebrewers will back off on specialty malt usage because the freshly kilned malt will supply more than enough flavor and aroma.
Mind the Gap When Crushing Your Grains
Not only is age of the malt important when brewing a delicious beer, but so is the process of crushing your grains. I found this out the hard way when a local homebrew shop poorly ground my malt and I ended up with a beer that didn’t even break 2% ABV.
I had two questions for Dave on crushing grains:
- How do you avoid astringency.
- How to get the most from your malt.
One common saying we have is to “Mind the gap.” It is important to crush the grain finely but have an even split between intact husks, small husks, and finely ground flour. You will want to get the finest grind you can while avoiding a stuck mash.
When it comes to astringency in your beer and mash. It is a function of temperature and the amount of ground up husk. This is why you want to have most of your husks intact to avoid that astringency. Professional breweries sometimes even set up filters to ensure an even crush is taking place.
Many homebrewers worry about astringency so much that many urban legends have developed. One that has been circulating in my circle not to stir the mash. This rumor may be associated with the heat aspect, but knowing that having a perfect grain crush will reduce astringency is very reassuring.
The grain mill I currently use is the Barley Crusher Malt Mill. It has worked wonders and I’ve never had a bad crush resulting in poor malt utilization since using it.
The Most Important Takeaway from a Craft Maltster
I love malty beers. I think that hops have had too much impact on the craft beer world, so its nice to learn more about how malt affects a beers flavor. I believe malt and hops should play off of each other to create a perfect beer rather than hops being the star player.
Knowing that a lot of the craft beer community overlooks malt I wanted to know what Dave wished more homebrewers knew about malt.
Malt should not be thought of as a commodity product especially when it comes to base malt. Malt is the soul of beer and it is after all a fermented malt beverage. There are subtle flavor and aroma differences that come from choosing one malt over another.
2-row has become a catch all phrase for any lightly kilned modified barley. But there are so many varieties and differences between different types of 2-row. More attention should be made to these base malts.
Dave definitely knows his stuff when it comes to malting quality grains and at times he could be a bit over my head. But I enjoyed the chance to learn something new from him.
If you find yourself in the San Francisco bay area be sure to visit Admiral Maltings and try their craft malt. They even have their own brewery where they sell beer made from their very own craft malt called The Rake!