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Beer KnowledgeMalt that Makes the Alcohol, Carbonation, Color and Core of Beer

25 Oct 2023
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The main ingredients for making a beer are malt, hop, yeast and water. Among them, the ingredient that always comes first is the malt. Malt provides sugar in order to create alcohol and carbonic acid and also controls the color and taste of beer. When brewing, black malt results into a blackcolored beer and red malt to a red-colored one. Particularly, malt is not an additional part of beer that makes ‘ beer more like beer’ but it plays the most essential role in creating an alcohol which makes a beer one of alcoholic drinks. What is malt and how is it made?



Categorization of malt


Malt is grains that are germinated and then dried. Malting is the name of the process of germinating and drying grains and malt is grains that went through the malting process. Malt is used to make alcoholic drinks like beer and whiskey and also to make vinegar.

Barley would be the first grain that would come up when thinking of malt as a beer ingredient. This is due to the fact that barley is the most used, essential and typical grain in making a beer from the ancient times until now. Of course, barley is not the only one that is used to make a beer. If wheat goes through malting, is wheat malt and if rye experiences malting, it is rye malt.

Dividing malts by their purpose, there are base malts and specialty malt. Base malts are used to provide sugar in order to make an alcohol while specialty malts are used to make the body, flavor, aroma and color of the beer.



Malt is not only used for beer 

Beer is not the only alcoholic drink that uses up malt. Whisky is also made with malt. If malt is used to make a whisky, it is called malt whisky and if with grains, then it is called grain whisky.

Malt whisky indicates distilled whisky that used 100% malt. Among whisky distilleries, some are equipped with a malt house that produces malt on their own. Single malt whisky is a type of whisky that uses malt produced only at one distillery rather than blending different malts from other distilleries. Blended whisky is the opposite notion of single malt whisky.

Malt that is manufactured for making malt whiskies uses peat for its fuel to provide hot air for drying. ‘The smell of peat’ contributes to making a particular aroma of single malt scotch.

Peat is an accumulation of vegetation and when it is burned, it smells differently depending on the surrounding environment. In this aspect, the main regions for producing Scotland’s malt whiskies such as The Highlands, The Lowlands, The Isle of Islay, Speyside all have different strengths and characteristics with the smell of peat in malts. 

To make a malt vinegar, first you dilute wort that is turned into sugar from malt. Next, like beer, it is fermented by yeast and then by acetic acid. Except the absence of hop and dilution by water, making of malt vinegar resembles the brewing process of the ‘sour ale’ that has sour taste for its characteristic.




Transforming from grain to malt

These days, malting operation is handled by companies and technical details may vary. However, generally, production of malt starts with filtering out foreign matter among grains, and after this follows ‘steeping’ which provides moisture for sprouting by immersed them in water, then comes ‘germination’ which is sprouting and finally ‘kilning’ which stops growth and gets rid of moisture by putting on heat depending on its purpose.

Let’s take a look at well grown barley that has been harvested. For mature barley to be made into malt requires quality check and drying process. However, providing moisture to harvested barley doesn’t directly lead to a sprout. For barley to have its germinating power, it needs 6 weeks of seed dormancy which is giving it certain amount of time after harvest.

 The first process in making malt from stored barley is providing moisture. Dried barley is immersed in water to have moisture. This process is called steeping which increases the percentage of moisture in barley from 13% to 43~48%. Here, immersion and drainage of water is repeated 2 to 3 times to reach the target level of moisture.

With enough moisture, barley starts to sprout. This is called germination and barley at this stage is green malt. Germination activates barley’s enzyme and during a stage called mashing, enzyme disassembles malt’s starch to monosaccharides and disaccharides. When barley sprouts, temperature has to be maintained around 10 to 16 degrees celsius. During the process, heat occurs to barley itself and if the temperature is not kept in a certain level, it can burn.

After finishing its germination, a staged called kilning follows which is drying up green malt until its moisture percentage drops below 5% to stop it from germinating. Firstly, to stop its germination and transformation of enzymes in green malt, the temperature is lowered. Then, malt is dried with hot air ranging around 50 to 60 degrees celsius. When the amount of moisture is decreased to target level, malt is dried on 80 degrees celsius for 2 to 4 hours. Here, pale malts or base malts are finished with their drying process while specialty malts requires further roasting or toasting.




Why does beer need malt?

As you can see, malting is needed to transform grains to adequate condition for brewing. Grains contain starch, protein and lipids and these all turn into energy for germination. To turn its components into energy, malt’s enzyme is activated and is then grown by disassembling them. Malting process includes activation of enzymes and halt of further growth.

After malting, the malts are smashed, put into 60 to 70 degrees celsius of water to make sugars then their ingredients are extracted into water. As the enzymes are activated, the malt’s polysaccharides are turned into monosaccharides or disaccharides and this is sugar that disassembles 

alcohol and carbon dioxide. On 60 to 70 degrees celsius, sugars are usually extracted to polysaccharides which doesn’t stay divided and provide body and grain’s sweetness to beer. Specialty malts that provide colors to beer are processed in high temperature at kilning thus are unable to give sugars for fermentation due to degeneration of malt’s components. However, depending on the way and level of the operation, specialty malts make an impact on creating caramel, smoke, roast flavor and aroma.

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