On the Road to Berlin: The Malt House

It All Begins at the Malt House…

When it comes to brewing, everything matters. From our water chemistry to our barley quality to our yeast health, each tiny bit influences the final result. And when we taste beer, we may not be able to put our finger directly on what makes a great beer stand out from the rest- but the answer is always in the chemistry and small touches.

This week I want to talk about the unsung heroes of the brewing world: the Maltsters! I discussed a few weeks ago how barley must be modified through a process called malting before it can be used in brewing. This process can be simplified down to wetting the grains (steeping), allowing the grains to grow and develop (germinating), and then drying and conditioning the grains for long term storage (kilning). This week I want to talk about some of the influences that show up in the final product of beer that start at the malt house, long before our barley even reaches the brewery.

Malting barley is hard work! Here is a look at an old school malting technique called “floor malting” that was used for a few hundred years:

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Today we use modern malting technology that can more precisely control the final result. Here are a few things that impact our final beer that we thank the Maltster for already putting into motion during that early malting process:

  • FAN- For healthy fermentation, way on down the line in the brewing process, it is absolutely ESSENTIAL that we have enough Free Amino Nitrogen (FAN). This FAN that is essential for a healthy and active interaction with the yeast is, for the most part, developed in the germination step of the malting process.

  • Enzymes- Enzymes trapped within a membrane called the Aleurone layer inside the barley kernel allow us break down complex sugars into fermentable ones, That is- if we can get to them. This is where the Maltster comes in. The malting process gives us access to these enzymes!

  • DMS- DMS (or dimethyl sulfide) is a fickle enemy to most brewers. DMS imparts a cooked corn or vegetable taste in our beer. In general, it’s something we don’t want or at least want to control. While we can further drive out DMS in the brewing process, the removal of DMS actually starts at the malt house. During kilning, the precursors to DMS are driven off by heating the barley up to over 70 degrees celsius, isolating the S-Methylmethionine (the precursor to DMS) and evaporating it.

Well, I hope you can walk away from this read with a bit more appreciation for our friends, the Maltsters! Catch you all next week!

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