What is malt?

What is malt? Since 2002, the year we decided to start our malt house, this is the most frequent question we get from people… or the question people don’t dare to ask! Now when we introduce ourselves, we’ve made a habit of saying this:

MaltBroue is a malt house. We produce malt, one of the ingredients used to make beer and our clients are microbreweries“.

The person asking the question often goes “Ah…!” and goes on to talk about hops. Hops are essentially associated with beer, so when people hear “ingredients used to make beer” it is natural for them to continue on with that subject.

So let’s continue: “No, malt is most commonly made from barley. It is the cereal used to produce beer. Because we cannot produce alcohol directly from the barley grains, our job is to transform the grain into malt so that the sugars present in the grain can be transformed in alcohol during the brewing process“.

This answer is obviously a short and simple explanation. Malt is so much more than that! But unless being a beer lover or just curious by nature, the vast majority of people will be satisfied with this answer. It’s a small step but at least they are now aware that a local ingredient made in Quebec can be found in beer!

Tell me more about malt please!

Are you one of those who want to know more? First, you need to know that many cereals can be used in beer production: wheat, rye, oat, buckwheat, sorghum, millet… but barley is the grain most commonly used. Currently, at MaltBroue, we transform barley, wheat and rye for our clients of the brewing industry.

Cereal malting consists of making the grain believe that it is time to grow! Why? Because then the grain will create enzymes that will enable it to release starch for the benefit of the brewer. When the grain is in the field, it feeds on that starch to grow.

malt germinationTo make the grain believe it is time to grow, we first have to give it some heat. The grain doesn’t grow at -20 degrees! The second step consists of humidifying the grain during the process we call “steeping”. When the grain is gorged with water, it begins to grow. This is the germination stage, a crucial stage in malting. It is important to stop the germination process before the cereal becomes a sprout. If the germ pokes out of the cereal’s husk, it cannot be used for brewing. It is then deemed to be over modified because the grain has used all its starch reserve for its own needs.

This is where the maltster plays a trick on the grain. Once it has grown just enough to have the enzymatic power desired by the brewer, the germination process is stopped by drying the grain in a kiln. That is why you could hear the word « kilning » instead of drying.

Malt is used to give taste, body as well as colour

Every malt house has a unique signature and produces distinct malts. We need to understand that the grain presents, first and foremost, characteristics that are specific to its soil. In addition, the method used to malt barley, whether being with different parameters, different equipments or the distinctive know-how of the brewer, can have an effect on the final result. A specific malt cannot be perfectly reproduce in another region or by using different equipments.

As far as possible, the maltster will choose his grain according to the type of malt he wants to produce. For example, in Quebec, we distinguish ourselves by producing barley higher in protein content than the grains in western Canada. Taking this particularity into account, producing pale malt is not necessarily perceived as a problem, but is surely an additional challenge for the maltster. It is indeed preferable to use a grain lower in protein content for this type of malt.

Depending on the type of malt he wishes to obtain, the maltster will then have to choose his steeping and air rest times, his germination and kilning period as well as his drying temperatures. All these parameters will differ, depending on the malt we wish to produce, whether being our Malt de l’Est or our caramel malts.

An ale type beer can be produced entirely from pale malts. However, if you want to add a different taste, enhance body to the beer and improve head retention, specialty malts needs to come into play. Caramel malts, smoked malts, roasted malts, acidified malts, etc, etc, etc. Those are just a few examples.

So there! We hope to have helped you learn a bit more about malt!

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