Brew It Yourself: The Role of Malted Barley in DIY Beers

Cracking open a cold one after a long and tiring day is something that most beer enthusiasts can relate to. It’s an effective way of shedding off stress and just enjoying a moment of relaxation. But can you imagine how much more satisfying it would be to drink a beer that you brewed yourself? Since we’ve all been in a situation where we open the fridge only to find out that we’ve run out of beer, why not take matters into our own hands and brew it ourselves?

Despite being an age-old process, brewing beer at home has gained popularity in recent years. It allows for creativity and customization, with homebrewers experimenting with different ingredients and techniques to create unique and flavorful batches. And one of the most important ingredients in the whole process is a carefully selected malted barley to give the brew its distinct taste and character.

What Does Malting Mean?

malted barley

The process of malting refers to the conversion of raw barley grains into malted, which is used in brewing. This involves four main steps, all of which play a crucial role in enhancing the flavour and texture of the final product.

Selection and Quality of Barley Grains

The first step in malting is selecting high-quality barley grains. This is essential because it affects the overall quality and taste of the malted barley which in turn influences the liquor’s flavour. The way you determine the quality of grains is by looking at their size, weight and germination potential. High-quality grains are plump and uniform in size, with a high germination rate.

If you notice that they’re small or have inconsistent sizes, it’s best to sort them out and discard any damaged or discoloured ones. This is because these imperfections can cause off-flavours in the final product, such as a grassy or vegetal taste.

Steeping: Hydration of Barley

The next step is steeping the barley grains in water. This process rehydrates the grains, kickstarting the germination process. The barley is typically soaked in large tanks for 2-3 days, with regular intervals of draining and aerating to prevent the growth of mould.

You can do this at home using a large pot or bucket, but be sure to check the grains regularly and drain off any excess water. During this process, the grains absorb moisture, increase in size and develop enzymes that are crucial for converting starches into sugars later on.

Germination: Conversion of Starches

After steeping, the barley is spread out on a malting floor or germination box, where it begins to sprout. This is the most critical step in the malting process as it helps convert complex starches into simple sugars that can be fermented by yeast during brewing.

The duration of germination depends on the desired type and level of maltiness, with a longer germination time resulting in a more intense malt flavour. The temperature and humidity are carefully monitored during this stage to ensure optimal growth and enzyme development.

Kilning: Drying and Roasting

The final step is killing drying the barley in a kiln or oven. This halts the germination process by removing moisture from the grains and preserving them, which involves drying and roasting the grains to preserve them for storage. This also imparts different levels of colour, aroma, and flavour to the barley.

The type of kilning method used will determine the type of malt produced. For example, a low-temperature kiln produces light-coloured malts used in lagers, while higher temperatures result in darker malts used in stouts and porters. This stage requires precision and skill, as too much heat can cause the grains to lose their enzymes and affect the beer’s overall quality.

What Type of Malt Is Best?

different types of malted barley

Now that we’ve covered the production process, you may be wondering what type of malted barley is best for your DIY endeavours. The answer depends on personal preference and the type of beer you want to make.

Base Malts

Starting off with the most basic brewing sugar, base malts are essential in providing the necessary fermentable sugars for any beer. These lightly kilned varieties have a mild flavour and provide the backbone of most beverages, with a slight sweetness and a crisp, clean finish. They’re made from barley grains that are low in protein and enzymes, making them perfect for conversion during the mashing process.

Specialty Malts

Next up are specialty versions, which add additional flavour and colour to a brew. These are lightly toasted in the kiln and have a slightly higher protein content than base malts, giving them a nutty or biscuit-like taste. They can also contribute hints of caramel, toffee, or chocolate flavours depending on the level of toasting.

Crystal/Caramel Malts

For those looking to add a touch of sweetness and a deeper colour profile, crystal or caramel malts are the way to go. They’re created by stewing moist malt in sealed drums before being killed, resulting in grains that are crunchy and sweet with a chewy texture. These specialty malts add depth and complexity to a beer, with flavours ranging from raisin and plum to burnt sugar and honey.

Roasted Malts

Lastly, we have roasted options, which are heavily kilned until they turn dark in colour. These varieties add intense flavours of coffee, chocolate, or even smoke to a brew and are commonly used in stouts, porters, and other dark beers. They’re also used in small amounts to add colour and complexity to lighter beverages.