By Chef K.T. Murphy
One of the great reasons for learning to brew your own beer is to learn more about the various grains and ingredients that makes one beer better than another one. When you first start your hobby of home brewing, you no doubt got connected to a local club or association of home brewers. They can help you learn the lingo and how to tell what the best grains are to use in your beer. But before you go to the first meeting, it might speed things up if you knew the basics.
The use of malts is at the heart of how grain contributes to a great beer. The difference between a light beer that doesn’t have a heavy malt taste and one that virtually tastes like a loaf of bread all go back to what malts you pick and the process that is used during the malting and brewing of your beer.
There are actually a big variety of different grains that people commonly use when brewing their own beer and you may have to take some time to brew up a few batches using different grains to see which ones capture what to you is the perfect beer taste that will make your home made beer unique. But understanding how malting works is a good first step.
Now as a home brewing enthusiast, you will probably not actually take grain through the malting process yourself. But you should become familiar with how malting works and why there is so much variety to the outcome of the malting process. In that way you can use that knowledge when buying the malts for your beer so you can get a malt that will give you the flavor, color and intensity of beer that you are looking for.
The malting process starts with the grain to be used. The most common grains are barley, wheat or rye but others can be used from time to time. The grain is used from the seed form and steeped and germinated which gets the active part of the malting and brewing process underway. Germination, which from your high school science class you know is what happens when a seed sprouts out to become a plants, releases the store energy of the seed that was put there to jump start the growth process. We are going to use that energy and convert it into malt mash that you can use to brew your beer.
What happens during the germination process of those grains is that the stored energy in the seed is changed as it is released. When the starches in the seeds changes into sugars by the enzymes that are active part of the germination process, those sugars give us one of the core ingredients for great beer. It is at that exact moment that the germination process is suspended using kilns to dry the grains and all of that good sugar and enzymes that became active remain in the malt for use during the brewing process.
Obviously this description of the basic malting process is simplified but for our purposes it gives you a background into what happens before you buy the malts you will use in your home made beer. But based on this description, you can go on to get a feel for the wide variety of malt types. The more you know about malt, the better informed you will be about what malts you wish to use when you brew your beer. And those decisions will have a big effect on the taste of your beer. So for great tasting beer, use great malts and knowing one malt from the next is the key to knowing which to use for the best home made beer possible from your home brewing efforts..