Malt is the soul of beer, and is the second ingredient used (by quantity) in the brewing process, after water. The malt provides the sugars that the yeast will later ferment. It is also the primary coloring agent in beer, and one of the major contributors to beer’s flavor, aroma, and body. The proteins in its grains give the foam its structure, while the minerals it contains provide many of the essential nutrients the yeast needs to thrive.
By far, too, malted barley is the most widely used grain in brewing. However, many other types of grains are also used, malted or not, such as wheat, corn, rice, rye or oats.
Barley is the most common malted grain, but there are other grains that are also malted, such as wheat or rye. Due to differences in processes, malts of similar types from different malthouses can impart different flavors to the beer. Brewers usually select their malts from specific malthouses, with which they already know that they will achieve the desired result.
Types of malt:
By far, barley is the most widely used grain in brewing, and the fifth most widely grown cereal in the world. It is also one of the oldest, as it was already cultivated more than 8 thousand years ago.
Barley is grown mainly in the colder temperate climate regions, such as Russia, Canada, Spain or Germany. There are three types: two-row malt, four-row malt, and six-row malt. This fact refers to the number of grain rows of each stem. Of the three, only the two-row and six-row barley is used for brewing, although the two-row is the most popular. Some of the best known barley varieties for brewing are Harrington, English Marris Otter or Halcyon.
Of all the types of cereal, it is no coincidence that barley is the most widely used. Barley is characterized by short germination and high starch content (thus facilitating a higher amount of fermentable sugars). In addition, this cereal contains a high protein concentration, a fact that reduces the cloudiness of the beer.
Although most barley is malted for later brewing, it can also be used raw or unmalted.
Other types of malt:
Apart from barley, we brewers also often use wheat, rye or oat malt. Among the many uses that these malts can have, we can enhance the body of the beer and facilitate the formation and retention of foam. Likewise, they also contribute to creating a more complex beer, with a unique flavor.
We are facing the third most cultivated cereal around the world, with powerful producers such as China, India, the United States or Russia. Among the advantages of wheat is its higher protein content compared to barley, which produces beers with a full, rich mouthfeel and a creamy head. In addition, it also has enough diastatic power to convert its own starch into fermentable sugars, and therefore large amounts can be used for brewing. On the other hand, wheat can cause cloudiness in beer.
the rye Rye is gradually spreading in the craft beer sector. In some ways, it is similar to both barley and wheat, and it grows in almost all regions of the world. The world leaders in its production are Russia, Poland and Germany. The specialty of rye is the unique spicy flavor that it gives to beer and that cannot be achieved with any other grain.
On the other hand, grow in temperate zones with cooler and more humid summers, such as in certain regions of Russia, Canada and the United States. Oats have high protein, fat and oil levels, making them less suitable for brewing (its characteristics can negatively affect retention and foaming). This grain is primarily used to make Oatmeal Stouts as it gives them a full and rich mouthfeel as well as biscuit flavors and aromas.
Both oats and rye have low diastatic power, which means that barley malt also has to be used for proper starch conversion to take place.
In addition to malted grains, unmalted grains can also be used. In this case, these grains are called adjuncts, and can include rice, corn, barley, wheat, oats, or rye. Adjuncts have several functions: they allow for a brighter color and greater body, they add complexity to flavor and aroma, and they allow for gluten-free beers.
For the enzymatic conversion to take place, the grain starches have to be gelatinized. This means that its structure has to be broken down by heat and water. However, each grain has a different gelatinization temperature. Unmalted grains generally have a higher gelatinization temperature than malted grains, so a series of steps must be followed to dispose of the starches contained within. If a brewer uses raw grain, they must practice what is called “cereal mash”, a process by which the raw grain must be boiled together with a part of barley malt. Thus, gelatinization would be achieved and the conversion of starches would begin. Another option is to use cereal flakes, which have already been gelatinized beforehand and do not require special procedures. Also, adjuncts often have low or no diastatic power, so base malts have to be used.
Advantages of each grain:
In the same way as corn, rice is used to lighten the color of beer. In addition, its use affects the flavor less than corn, and as a result gives drier beers. The cereal is often used in American and Japanese lagers.
Wheat. Unmalted wheat gives the beer a much stronger wheat character, which is not achieved with malted wheat. With more intact starches and proteins than malted wheat, raw wheat can result in cloudy beer. However, it can enhance mouthfeel and increase head retention.
Wheat is frequently used in wheat beers, and is essential if you want to brew Lambics, Belgian Wits or
Barley. Barley flakes have a higher protein content than malted barley, which improves body and foam retention.
In the same way as unmalted wheat, raw rye produces a more pronounced and spicy rye character. It also contains a higher protein concentration, which enhances body and improves foam retention.
Oatmeal. Rolled oats are primarily used in stouts to improve body and foam retention. However, brewers are increasingly using it in other styles of beer, such as Porters and IPAs. Finally, the flakes of this cereal give the beer a smooth and bready/biscuit flavor to the Oatmeal Stouts.