Malted Barley Appreciation Society

Malted Barley Appreciation Society Newsletter

Vol. 5, No. 10                                  October 1998

The Magic of Malt Part I: Steeping and Germination

By George de Piro

This article is the first in a series about malting. Malt is one of beer’s major ingredients so it important to know a bit about it. In this installment the germination process will be examined. All malts, regardless of the type of grain they are made from or the type of malt they are destined to be, undergo germination.

Germination is the process by which the embryonic plant absorbs water and begins to grow. A simple definition of malt is “germinated grain that has been dried.” Only the best quality grain is used for malting. Maltsters look for grain that is lump in size and relatively low in protein. Despite their intensive selection process not all of the malt they produce will be acceptable to brewers. Great beer can only be made from the best ingredients.

The grain to be malted (most often barley) is washed in water to remove debris. It is then placed in the steep vessel where it is soaked in cool water (about 54�F/12�C) for about four hours. The grains absorb water and life processes begin. The embryonic plant produces heat and carbon dioxide during this time. It is important that the grain be kept cool and supplied with plenty of oxygen.

After this initial steep the water is drained from the grains. The seeds, which are now at about 30% moisture, are then turned so that they are all exposed to cool, moist air. The seeds continue to absorb the moisture that clings to them during this air rest. This phase lasts about 20 hours. The grain is again soaked in cool water for four hours, and then given another air rest. Finally, it is steeped in cool water for about two hours. By the end of this third steep the grain will be at about 45% moisture and rootlets will be visible. The grain is then transferred to the modern germination vessel or traditional malting floor. (Very few maltsters use floor malting these days because of the large amount of space and labor the process requires.)

The germinating grain is kept moist and turned two times per day in order to keep it well aerated. The temperature of the germinating grain is determined by the type of malt and the method of malting. Floor malting usually requires that the germinating grain be kept cool (63�F/17�C) while modern malting vessels allow for slightly higher temperatures (about 63�F for Pilsner malt and 75�F/24�C for darker malts). The cooler the malt, the more slowly it will grow. This is important to the final quality and extract potential of the malt. Malt that has been germinated too quickly will be low in extract potential (because the young plant will use the starch itself, the selfish bastard). It will also be enzymatically weaker than malt made from grain germinated at cooler temperatures.

The embryonic plant, called the acrospire, is allowed to grow until it is about 75-100% the length of the seed kernel. The exact length the acrospire is allowed to grow to is determined by the type of malt that is being made and the preference of the maltster. The amount of acrospire growth is loosely related to the degree of modification. Modification is a term that refers to the degree of protein breakdown in the malt.

There are many chemical changes that occur during germination, and they are very important to the maltster and brewer. The most relevant of these is the formation of proteins called enzymes that will later be used to convert starch to fermentable sugars in the brewhouse. Large starch granules in the grain are also degraded to some degree. This allows for more efficient saccharification (conversion of starch to sugar) during the brewhouse mash.

The breakdown of large structural proteins is another important event during germination. These large proteins surround the starch granules, giving the grain its structural integrity. If they are not broken down the enzymes will not be able to reach their starchy substrate to convert it to sugar during the mash.

A “highly modified” malt has undergone extensive protein breakdown. This usually means that the malt will be easier to mash, requiring only a single temperature rest for saccharification. All modern malts that I know of are well modified and do not require complex mashing schedules. In fact, using a protein rest on today’s malts will likely yield a thin-bodied beer with mediocre head retention. Jim Basler of Briess malting has told me that none of their malts should be mashed with a protein rest, not even their wheat malt.

After the acrospire has grown to the desired length the germination process is stopped by drying the grain. The manner in which it is dried largely determines the type of malt it will become. Drying schedules for various malts will be discussed in future articles in this series (boy, aren’t you all excited...)

The Economic Justification for an Airline Ticket; or, Drinking $12 Beers for $1.50 in Europe

by B.R. Rolya

On our most recent trip to Europe, Bob and I once again subjected ourselves to the rigors of beer drinking. We flew into Brussels and immediately headed off to Germany. On the way, we stopped in Leuven to refresh ourselves with a delicious De Koninck. Once we arrived in K�ln, we continued our sampling of K�lsch beers and enjoyed ones we had tasted last summer. One of K�lschbiers that we hadn't tried before came from the Garde brewery. As with all K�lsch, this one was straw yellow in color. It was rather typical, but quite good, with its subtle malt aroma (Garde also has a bit of a grainy nose), slightly tart flavor, dry finish, and gentle hop presence. Another beer that we tried was K�lner Wiess which is not a Weissbier, but rather an unfiltered, tangy K�lsch. We drank this beer with a farmer's cheese that was so rank that lambic would have smelled sweet next to it. We also went back to our favorite brewery/restaurant, Malzm�hle, which has a very distinctive and malty K�lsch. On this visit, we detected some corn and butter notes which we did not pick up last time. However, last summer we were not graduates of Professor George's Beer Appreciation Class. We got a wonderful whirlwind tour of the brewery by the head brewer, who gave us his recipe and free bottles of K�lsch and Malzbier (a low alcohol malt beverage). While we were in K�ln, Bob got quite the reputation as a beer expert by educating the younger generation about German beers. To our peers, K�lsch is known as "headache beer", but Bob was quite eloquent at describing the subtleties of K�lsch and I think he made a few converts.

After K�ln, we travelled to Dortmund to visit friends. While there, we tried a tasty local Pils called Thier. We also visited the Kronen brewpub. Usually, in Germany, if beers are made on the premise, it is called a brewhouse without much emphasis on the process or the equipment. At Kronen, however, it was much more in the style of an American brewpub with gleaming serving tanks and explanations about the beer and brewing process. I had their Pils which had the requisite malt and hops in the aroma and flavor, but it ended with some uncharacteristic sour and metallic notes. Bob fared even worse with the Urtyp Hell. It was described as an unfiltered helles, but there was so much yeast in it that it was positively murky. It was difficult to get past the huge phenolic characters in the aroma and flavor, but we did get a little bit of malt character which quickly turned sour. This was the first and only beer in Germany that we didn't finish. As in American brewpubs, the waitress was not very knowledgeable and claimed that the beer was not infected, but was supposed to taste like that because it was unfiltered. Unfortunately, the brewer wasn't around for us to talk to. We also tried a variety of local bottled products, including a Dortmunder Union beer called Brinkhoff's (a pils made after the recipe of the first brewmeister), Pott's Landbier (a "country beer" that was recommended by a friend as an older-style beer), Diebels, and DAB Pilsener. We also had incredibly fresh bottles of Kostritzer Schwartzbier which were quite delicious.

Then it was off to Belgium! Our first stop was at the Brasserie Vervifontaine in Jalhay (near Li�ge, in the Ardennes). This brewery was recommended by the brewer of Brasserie Schoune in Quebec (whom we met at Caf� Centro beer dinner) who is Belgian and who had apprenticed there. It's a tiny farmhouse brewery in the middle of nowhere (the brewhouse itself used to be the barn for pigs). We were given a tour by the brewer's father while the brewer, Dominic Thonnard, arrived from another job. This former chemist makes 2 beers: a blonde (Bi�re du Lion) and an amber (Rousse des Fagnes) for which he uses a modified Achouffe yeast. The blonde was probably one of the best surprises we had in Belgium. All he would tell us of the recipe for this delicious 8% beer was that he used 2 malts, 3 hops, and 4 spices.

Our next stop was the Achouffe brewery. We arrived too late for a tour, so we missed seeing the little chouffes in action, but we were able to sample some of their work at the source. We tried their very crisp Blonde which had a nice balance of malt, spices, and citric notes. They were also serving a seasonal Bi�re du Soleil (Sun Beer) which was a lighter version of the blonde (although darker in color). This one was a bit disappointing due to its lack of flavor.

That night, we stayed in the town of Rochefort where we sampled the wonderful Rochefort beers (we neglected to take notes on the 8 and 10 that we tried, but both were served with samples of a local cheese). Other beers that we tried included La Rochefortoise: an 8% amber with an incredibly cheesy label (big-busted cartoon warrior princess). This artisanal beer wasn't too exciting. The aroma had floral, spicy, and fruity notes, but also some sulfur and higher alcohols. The flavor was rather sweet with faint spices, but there was an unpleasant metallic note to the finish. We also had our first Orval of the trip, and what a surprise that was! It had huge hop aroma with a lot of hop flavor and bitterness, almost like a Belgian Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The floral aftertaste had hints of anise and caraway. A beer that neither Bob nor I were familiar with from our previous times in Belgium (many years ago) was the heavily advertised Ciney beer (the logo looked like "Chimay" at a quick glance). When we ordered it at a local bar, the guy next to us said, "That's not a good beer. What you want is a Rochefort." He was right. While it wasn't bad, there wasn't much to the brune (amber) that we tried.

The next day, we were taken to a brewery in Lochristi called De Proef. There we got a very thorough and informative tour of the brewery by the head brewer who is also professor of brewing studies specializing in yeast care and propagation. The spotless brewery was the most state-of-the-art facility we had ever seen. They generally contract brew, with the clients consulting with them about the desired profile for the beer. One of the beers we tried was a Tripel (sold under the name Reinaert) made with de-ionized water that had no salts re-added. They also brew a diabetic beer that is made with a sweet plant called stevia (that we didn't recognize); this beer has no residual sugars and has an attenuation of 102%. It was oddly sweet and wasn't our favorite beer, although it was well made and interesting. They also make what is known as "new style" in some markets and which is fermented with wild yeasts and brettanomyces. While we enjoyed this beer, there are better examples that are made in less sterile surroundings. But is was interesting to find a commercial brewer wh wasn't afraid to have Brett. in the brewery. The final beer we tasted there was Boerken Soft Porter which was very light in color for a porter, and which didn't have many other characteristics of a porter; it was, however, quite good and rather complex.

After a jaunt down to the P�rigord in France where we had to readjust our systems to vast quantities of wine everyday, we returned to Belgium and headed to Brugge. Join us next month as we continue to drink our way through Belgium!

Continued Next Issue!

New Malted Barley T-Shirts!

Be the first on your block to have the latest edition of the Malted Barley T-Shirt. It comes in gray with a small picture of Salty in the "Yo Brooklyn" mode and a logo on the front, and then, on the back, is a complete, tabloid-sized reproduction of the off-flavor comic strip used in our competition in February. The shirt is only $15 ($25 for 2) if you pick it up at a meeting or a Hop, Skip and Brew. Otherwise, order it via the mail (add $5 for postage & handling, from Hop Skip and Brew, 50-07 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens, NY.

The Next Meeting of The Malted Barley Appreciation Society will be on Wednesday, October 14, at 8:30 p.m. We are expecting Matthias Neidhart, of B. United International, who is bringing in rare cask-conditioned ales on draft.

As usual, the meeting will be held at Mug's Ale House, 125 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, which will be serving 2 of the beers on handpump. And, as always, there should be lots of good homebrew. See you there!

Return to the Malted Barley Home Page.

Any comments should be sent to Our E-Mail Address.