What is Malt and Malting?

No it is not your breakfast cereal–at least not the malt I am talking about. Malt is one of four main ingredients in beer. Malt is defined as germinated cereal grains that have been dried in a process called malting to provide the fermentable sugars required to make beer and to make it "sweet."

The process of malting consists of soaking the grain in water until it starts to germinate. Then the germination process is halted by drying the grain with hot air while turning it for about five days. At this stage of malting you have green malt.

Confused on how this effects beer? From green malt, a large variety of malts are produced. The green malt is then kilned to the desired color and specification needed, ranging from very pale to black. The malting converts the insoluble starch to soluble starch and lowers the complex protein level, causing the nutrients needed for yeast to grow and develop, producing the necessary enzymes. For instance the lighter the roasting on the malt, the more enzymatic the grain is. These are called base malts and they provide the most extract potential. Some examples of base malts are:

  • 2-row malt (a grain with two rows along the seed head)
  • 6-row malt (a grain with six rows along the seed head)
  • Pilsner (a pale malt with a sweeter flavor that produces a smoother, less grainy beer)
  • Wheat (this malt can be used alone or added in small amounts to non-wheat beers for head retention)

Specialty malts are kilned a little longer creating almost a caramel flavor.

  • Carapils (added for head retention and stability)
  • Honey malt (adds sweet, toasted nutty flavors)
  • Munich (increases body aroma and malt sweetness)
  • Rauch (a smoked malt used in rauchbiers; has a peat flavor)
  • Rye (adds spicy fruity flavors)
  • Special roast (adds a biscuity flavor)
  • Victory (adds warm toasted nutty flavors)
  • Vienna (similar to Munich but not as intense)

The dark-colored malts are added to the base in small amounts to obtain color and enhance the flavor, but do not have enough enzymes to solely brew the beer as a base does.

  • Chocolate malt (chocolatey brown in color, somewhat bitter and is used in brown ales, stouts, and porters; however it does not have a strong chocolate flavor as most would think)
  • Black patent malt (almost burnt in flavor and very dark)

The type of malt used depends on the brewer. Some malts can be used individually or with other types, depending on what end result the brewer is looking for. What types would you choose? Tweet me @abcbeerheatherf!

Heather Fassett, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits beer consultant – Bradenton



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