Behind every great beer is a story of knowledge and passion. Any top brewer will tell you that mastering the core four ingredients is an art form. Water makes up over 90% of the brew; yeast dictates the type of beer; hops are responsible for its aromatic qualities; but malt – that’s where the beer’s character lies.
So, what is it? Grains (often barley) are soaked in water, allowing them to sprout. Afterwards those grains are dried or roasted to create malt. Malt has a huge impact on both the colour and flavour of the beer. If the malt is lightly roasted, the colour of the beer will be pale; if it’s roasted with a little more vigour, it will result in a darker beer.
All malted grain will add a sweetness to the brew, since that’s where the sugar is extracted from, but additional flavour comes from the actual soil where the grain grows. The richer the soil, the healthier and stronger the grain. Some brewers will smoke the malt with different kinds of wood too. An oak wood will provide a fine vanilla and honey aroma, whereas a beech wood creates a bacon-like flavour – yes, bacon.
Different kinds of grain can be used to create malt, but the most popular is barley. That said, other kinds of grains are gaining traction across the globe. Our friends in Germany are crazy for wheat malt, while our Yankee brothers can’t get enough of rye. Wheat gives the beer a natural, refreshing taste, whereas rye provides a spicy flavour and gives the beer a silky texture. Both can be tricky to work with and they tend to dictate a different approach than barley malt given their complexity.
The true test of a beer’s character is its quality and consistency. The grain needs to be structurally strong, crisp (without being dry or moist), packed with protein and nutrition, disease-free and free of pesticides preferably. Malt sets the standard for how great the beer is going to be. Bad malt = bad beer. Good malt = victory in a pint glass.