The body and color of the brews is dependent not only on the grains used but also on how they are malted and roasted. Over the next two chapters, we will be talking about them in detail. Micro-malting allows us to incorporate some exotic flavors and unique grains in our brewing experiments.
Sprouting legumes for breakfast is the simplest and healthiest food practice followed across the globe. Soaking whole grains for 1-2 days before consuming them raw, is a preferred way to incorporate these prebiotics (a special form of dietary fiber that acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in your gut) in the diet. During germination, the seeds activate many enzymes, breaks down the complex starch and proteins, which makes digestion and absorption easier. It even produces certain vitamins and lowers the calories in the grains by 20%.
Malted food is more nutritious than consuming whole cereals and gets digested easily. Many educated moms are substituting commercial infant foods with organic home-malted grains and nuts. Artisanal bakeries are switching to malted wheat flours from maida (white flour). These breads are naturally sweetened, so no external sugars are needed during bread making. We can even skip calorie-laden jams and butter on them because of the inherent rich flavorful maltiness in these sandwich breads. In my house, we use ragi malt (finger millet) as a thickener and sweetener in milk. Before we get carried away with the various applications of this technology, one should not forget our beloved beers which are made of 15-25% malt.
In the USA, over 100 specialized craft maltsters specialize in helping brewers make the best from their locally available grains. Nothing beats the joy of making food from scratch as this hobby. In addition, home malting allows one to acquire and brew with specialty grains in small quantities. A brewer using locally produced heritage grains can have the same pride as a winery owner has when they show their plantation.
Traditional beer recipes use only malted barley. However, craft beers are leaning heavily towards wheat, rye, and sorghum. Craft brewers have been experimenting with malted millets (Jowar, Bajara, and Ragi), corn, rice, and host of other locally found grains and their variants.
Technically, one can malt any seed. As long as the grains are properly stored, not roasted, or treated chemically to make inert, we are golden. There are a few technical differences between a 2R and 6R barley but great beers can be made from good quality grains of either species.
From the swamp of grain guidelines, we have picked the most appropriate ones:
Malting Grain selection
- It ought to have its husk (seed’s external layer is intact) and should sprout. So milled rice and barley pearls cannot be malted but commercially available wheat grain can be used.
- There are dormancy and germinability issues with very green and very old grains. 3-18 months old grains are the best.
- Pick the grains that have the maximum plumpness (more diameter, higher kernel weight).
- They should have low fat, protein, husk, and moisture content (12-13%). High fat gives rancidity and proteins can induce haze (and reduce yields of extractable maltose). Husk and moisture are dead weight.
- Keep an eye on friability (broken grains) and underdeveloped grains. An ideal grain should be uniform in color, texture, size with very little broken/ shriveled grains.
- When in doubt, buy a handful of grains and test it out. India produces 1.2 million tons of barley and 100 million tons of wheat annually. Procurement from seed companies, local farmers, and feedstock producers could be venturous.
- Remember that there will be a 20-25% loss in grain weight during cleaning and processing. So, please procure a bit extra.
- The six-row barley (6R), has two smaller grain and one larger grain, while the two-row (2R) barley is uniform. These smaller grains tend to introduce variance in roasting and germination. So given a choice, go for grains that are more uniform in nature.
Malting is broken into five steps:
- Prep/ Washing – 30 minutes to 2 hours
- Steeping/ Air Resting – 24-36 hours
- Germinating – 3-7 days
- Kilning – 1 day
- Debearding/ cumming 30 minutes
Based on the temperature, humidity, and characteristics of the grain, these times will vary slightly.
Malting does not require anything hi-tech but having control over parameters always helps. A bucket for soaking, muslin cloth for germination and an oven for drying is sufficient. However, if you plan to standardize it, here is what you need:
- A microscale (or weighing scale) is highly recommended. I use it for computing moisture, grain selection and yield computation.
- A thermometer helps to maintain climate control.
- A tea ball or a small container to help take standard grain samples (without counting 50-100 seeds manually).
- Strainer/ mesh
- Water source
- Room with drainage
- Some cleaning aids
- A stainless steel mesh, a bedsheet, or any surface available.
- Khats (woven rope cots) or portable folding beds because of their good drainage and light weight.
- A small comb like wooden rake to prevent the rootlets from matting (tangling with each other).
- Water spray/ mist maker is recommended to maintain humidity.
- Sun or electric heater with fan is recommended to dry out the grains before putting them inside an oven.
- For small batches, one can use on OTG (which has thermostat and inbuilt convection fan).
- For medium size batches, we can modify an old wooden cabinet to insert grain trays (square wooden frames with cloth/ metal sieves stapled at the bottom).
- Cleaning & debearding
- Old washing machine to break the rootlets away.
- Winnow the grains using a table fan and a tray.
- For smaller batches, debearding can be achieved by rubbing the grains between the fingers too.
- Grains are abrasive, so one would have to change the plastic container after a few uses because the scratched surface can harbor microbes.
- Please remember, it is OK to use food grade plastic during the wet grain processing but not inside the oven.
- Oven can be made from galvanized iron but germination bed needs stainless steel to be rust proof.
Making specialty barley malts at home is also gaining popularity amongst home-brewers and microbreweries. This offers the flexibility to the brewer to procure a base malt and create a large variety of specialty malts to suit various recipes. Few of them are listed out as follows:
- Majority of the chocolate and biscuit malts can be prepared by roasting base grains.
- Acid malts through lacto-fermentation over 2-3 days inside a refrigeration (and without air).
- Crystal malt requires soaking the grains and heating them under high humidity (by not allowing the steam to escape) and low temperature (70-75OC) for 90-120 minutes. This allows the enzymes to make the breakdown the starch inside the grains and produce sweet unfermentable sugars.
- Black and peated malts require a coffee roaster. Soaked grains are dried slowly under contact with wood smoke to induce the smoky black flavors. Some maltsters use barbecue smokers as well. However, cleaning the equipment after making a batch of peated malts is a problem. Hence, I would recommend keeping their setup separate.
Before we move into actual malting, let us dig into the various measurement techniques used to standardize. The key to replicable and standardized results is the measurements and controls of our experiments. During malting, the grains goes through a variety of transformation: swelling during soaking, dehydration and loss of mass due to rootlets/ respiration. Taking pictures and measuring these changes are the key to understand the extent of these biological activities and controlling the same to get desired results. Temperature and shoot length is self-explanatory. Hence, we will be talking about new terms only.
- Chit Counts
Take exactly 50 or 100 grains and observe them for the first signs of rootlets. The white dot poking out of one end of the grain is called chits. We count the number of seeds showing these chits and plot it. Although the grains are supposed to have 98% chit rate, when I achieve 90-95%, steeping is complete for me.
E.g.: Assuming that 12% was the starting moisture and after steeping the 5gms of grains weigh about 8gms then:moisturecurrent % = 100 – (100 – 12) / (8 / 5) = 45%
Measure 5gm sample. Put them in a stainless steel mesh ball (tea ball). Throughout the week, we will be weighing and observing them to decide the next steps. The moisture content of our barley kernels is a major indicator of the progress during malting. It tells when we are done steeping and when malting is finished. I maintain a logbook with its weight so that the results from various batches can be compared. To track moisture, we will need to weigh the sample periodically and the weight change will tell us the new moisture content. Commercial malting will use multiple tea balls, placed in different positions to capture the variations in different regions.
The most critical part is that the sample should be exposed to the same moisture and temperature as the rest of the grains. The sample kernels (5gm) must not escape the tea ball. Also keeping the grains in a mesh/ tea ball ensures that rootlets do not get broken (debearded) which can alter the formulae.
To ensure accuracy, we need to get rid of any surface moisture from the grains. We actually empty our tea ball over filter paper in order to absorb surface moisture before weighing the grains. When refilling the tea ball, we need to be very careful to not leave any kernels behind.
During kilning, we adjust the formulae to compensate for the starch metabolism or respiration loss during germination (about 1% per day or 6-8% during the entire cycle).
E.g.: moistureadjusted % = 100 – ((100 – 6) / 100) x (100 – 12) / (4.3 / 5) = 3.8%Ideally, we will end up with a final moisture content of 4%.
It is the growth of the embryo during the germination process. Taking pictures at various stages helps get the sense of the extent of malting.
- Although no chemicals are used and it is a natural process, I would not advise anyone with a respiratory disease to venture into malting. Malt fever is the disease caused due to allergic reaction from airborne grain dust. During the cleaning and the kilning process, please wear masks and keep children and pets away.
- Keep an eye out for molds, stagnant water and wet walls. They can harbor microbes and be the source of spores which can cause health complications.
- As much as possible, try to use electric heating in your kiln. LPG and fuel burning often produces NOx and other carcinogenic fumes that can get absorbed by the husk.
Most harvested grains have a 60-90 day dormancy during which they don’t sprout. Grains that don’t sprout, not only reduce the enzyme yields but also can rot and introduce sour flavors to the beers. Hence, try to use the previous harvest grains as much as possible. If they are not available, or chit counts are too low, then a slight amount of GA (Gibberellic Acid) might help.
A 30 min diluted lye wash (which can be neutralized later) helps in retarding mold formation during the week-long steeping process. Lastly once the moisture drops below 10%, during kilning, be watchful to any charring. The grains can move from light malt to pale to biscuit to dark to black in a matter of 15 minutes.
Malting is a very gratifying hobby, as well. Grains are bulky; most people prefer to procure locally, which can help create a demand for the products. Unlike brewing, malting is an art practiced by a few and has no excise restrictions on sale (being non-alcoholic). Therefore, micro-maltsters always get special invitations to all home-brewing and microbrewery events. Social networking, prebiotics, exotic grains, or specialty malts, whatever be our reason to malt at home, maintain a logbook. High variegated malts in small batches is the key to hone our skills from an enthusiast to professional.