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Malting Barley at Home

The body and color of the brew 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. Before we get into the technicalities, let’s understand what exactly these terms infer.

roasting barley malt in OTG Oven
roasting barley malt in OTG Oven

Malt and Barley:

Barley is an important cereal grain. It has a nutty flavor and looks like wheat berries. It is cultivated in varying climatic zones, both flooded or dry lands. While malt refers to the grain which is softened by water, geminated and then dried. This process is known as malting. It is made both from barley and with the help of other grains too.

Malted and Unmalted Barley:

Brewing can be done both with malted or unmalted barley. Just that malting does affect the flavor and color and impacts the resulting beer. Malted barley is when the grain is germinated and stopped when it has enough enzymes, sugars and starches. While in the case of unmalted, there are no enzymes or sugars and it is just raw dried seeds.


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 this 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. It 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%.

Benefits of Malt:

Malted food is more nutritious than consuming whole cereals. Comparatively, it is easy to digest. Malt contains important vitamins  minerals, amino acids and dietary silicon which helps in bone growth. Malt extract maintains good bacteria in the gut by supporting the growth of probiotic culture. It also works well in maintaining the cholesterol level and therefore is good for heart health. The real nutritional punch of malts is they are a very good source of antioxidants, almost provide five times more than that of broccoli.

Can we eat Malted Barley?

Thorough cooking softens the husk and makes the malted barley edible. It has a very high fiber content. But it won’t be a very good idea to eat a lot of it because the fibrous material becomes hard to digest. The best application of malted barley can be to use it as a fiber booster for other food items. A lot of mothers 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 have natural sweetening agents. Therefore, there is no need for external sugars while bread making. We can even skip putting 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.

Malted Beers:

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. 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, we properly store the grains, not roast them, or treat them 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 Barley Grain Selection

  1. 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, we can use commercially available wheat grain.
  2. There are dormancy and germinability issues with very green and very old grains. 3-18 months old grains are the best.
  3. Pick the grains that have the maximum plumpness (more diameter, higher kernel weight).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Remember that there will be a 20-25% loss in grain weight during cleaning and processing. So, please procure a bit extra.
  8. 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 Barley involves five steps:

Malting wheat at home
  • 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.

Equipment

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:

two row barley fields

Measurement

  1. Highly recommend a microscale (or weighing scale). I use it for computing moisture, grain selection, and yield computation.
  2. A thermometer helps to maintain climate control.
  3. A tea ball or a small container to help take standard grain samples (without counting 50-100 seeds manually).

Washing

  1. Bucket
  2. Strainer/ mesh
  3. Water source
  4. Room with drainage
  5. Some cleaning aids

Germination

  1. A stainless steel mesh, a bedsheet, or any surface available.
  2. Khats (woven rope cots) or portable folding beds because of their good drainage and light weight.
  3. A small comb like wooden rake to prevent the rootlets from matting (tangling with each other).

Humidity

Recommendations -:

  1. Water spray/ mist maker to maintain humidity.
  2. Sun or electric heater with fan to dry out the grains before putting them inside an oven.

Kiln

  1. For small batches, one can use on OTG (which has thermostat and inbuilt convection fan).
  2. 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

  1. Old washing machine to break the rootlets away.
  2. Winnow the grains using a table fan and a tray.
  3. For smaller batches, rubbing the grains between the fingers too can help achieve debearding.

Precautions!

  1. Grains are abrasive, so one would have to change the plastic container after a few uses because the scratched surface can harbor microbes.
  2. Please remember, it is OK to use food grade plastic during the wet grain processing but not inside the oven.
  3. Oven can be made from galvanized iron but germination bed needs stainless steel to be rust proof.

Specialty Barley Malts

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. A few of them are listed out as follows:

  1. The majority of the chocolate and biscuit malts can be prepared by roasting base grains.
  2. Acid malts through Lacto-fermentation over 2-3 days inside refrigeration (and without air).
  3. 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.
  4. 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 separately.

Measurements

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 go through a variety of transformation: swelling during soaking, dehydration, and loss of mass due to rootlets/ respiration. Taking pictures and measuring these changes is 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 a 98% chit rate, when I achieve 90-95%, steeping is complete for me.

  • Moisture

E.g.: Assuming that 12% was the starting moisture and after steeping the 5gms of grains weigh about 8gms then:moisture current % = 100 – (100 – 12) / (8 / 5) = 45%

Measure the 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 log book 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 empty our tea ball over filter paper 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%.

  • Acrospires

It is the growth of the embryo during the germination process. Taking pictures at various stages helps get a sense of the extent of malting.

Health Safety!

  1. Although no chemicals are used and it is a natural process, I would not advise anyone with 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.
  2. 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.
  3. As much as possible, try to use electric heating in your kiln. LPG and fuel-burning often produce NOx and other carcinogenic fumes that can get absorbed by the husk.

Advanced notes

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.

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Some Speciality Malts

Acidulated Malt

These malts go by various names like Sauermalz, Acid Malt, or Sour Malt. They are pretty easy to make at home. All you need to do is to take the pilsner or base malt, soak it in lacto-bacteria culture for 24-48 hours to get the characteristic flavors. Another way to create acid malt flavors is kettle souring. Adding 1-5% of acidulated malt to your grain bill helps reduce wort pH, add a tartness and complexity to your beer.

Acid malts are used widely in saison beers and fruit beers. This malt is known to enhance the citrus notes of the hops. Also the slight tartness combined with residual sweetness from malt really brings out the fruity aromas. For Berliner Weisse and Gose style beers, we recommend using as much as 8-10% of acidulated malts.

Everything You Need to Know about Acidulated Malt (acid Malt) - Home Brew Basics

Crystal Malt

This is my favorite malt. Carapills, Crystal, and caramel malts really enhance the mouthfeel and residual maltiness of your beer. It can convert your watery lager into a rich creamy stout. Most of the dextrins and unfermentable sugar in the beer can be added through these crstal malts.

glassy core of crystal malt
glassy core of crystal malt

The lighter-colored crystal malts are more “sweet,” while darker crystal malts add roastiness or nuttiness in addition to sweetness. They are called crystal malt because of the glassy endosperm one can find when you take a bite of the grains. This is achieved by the maltster doing the entire mashing that has happened inside the husk. The green malt (or soaked based malt) is heated in a high humidity environment. Instead of the kiln drying out the grains, the heat of the kiln activates the amylaze enzymes. These enzymes convert the starch into sweet glassy dextrins. Saison, stouts, and fruit beers use ample quantities of caramel mounts for the mouthfeel that usually accompanies these styles.

Kiln Heating Profile

If you are baking in your OTG Oven below is the temperature setting for Crystal or Caramel Malt:

  1. 2 hours at 130 Degree Celsius (thick bed to avoid drying)
  2. 10-20 minutes heating at 180 Degree Celsius (to get the color right). Bite the grain (as shown in the picture) to verify the core color.
  3. Spread thin over the drying surface (could be noon sun of the summers, low flame in a cooking pot or 70 Degree Celsius in OTG) till moisture is below 5%.

Peated Malt or Smoked Malt

Most whiskey drinkers love the peated and bourbon notes in their drinks. The smoked malts are created by drying the malted grains over a smoky fire. If you use peat, which is naturally formed young coal, you will get peated flavors. Some brewers prefer grains that were dried over the oak fire as it will be more resinous. If you have eaten the traditional Rajasthani dish दाल बाटी चूरमा (Dal Baati churma) that is made over गोबर के कंडे (cow dung cakes), you will appreciate how peated malts can really enhance the experience of a barbecue party.

I prefer the green malt was roasted over the fire in a coffee roasting machine (not an electric oven) for the best results. However, you can soak your base malt for a couple of hours and dry them over smoke for similar results. The green malt shrinks when roasted. This moisture attracts the smoke and they start coating the grain husks. The drying of grains causes shrinking of the grains due to loss of moisture. As the green malt curl up, the smoke deposit on the husk gets trapped to make the best-peated malt.

Chocolate Malt:

It is a very dark roasted malt. It offers a chocolate flavor. There are different varieties of chocolate malt that provide dark color and the chocolate flavor. The flavor is more like a slightly burnt chocolate or cocoa and hence is not really sweet. A very small amount of malt gives both the color and flavor to your beer

Black Malt:

This specialty malt is very dark in color and sometimes is used just to add nothing but color to the finished product. It has a very bitter taste. Black malts are roasted for a long period of time. This results in the removal of a lot of malt aroma and flavors. Using it in large amounts might give your beer a burnt taste. This type of malt is mostly used for dark beers like Stout and Porter. Just like chocolate malt, use black malt sparingly. A small quantity goes a long way in making a dark beer.

4 comments

  1. pranavrjoshi

    Wow…you guys are awesome. Studying your material so can my own batches at home. Have tried 2-3 kvass batches but eager for the real thing!!

    1. thank you sir. we look forward to pictures of your real thing

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