The Alluring Art of Malting Barley

What is Malt?

Malt is grain that has been steeped, germinated, and kilned according to certain procedures. Malted grain differs from raw grain in several ways:

  • Malt contains less moisture and is therefore more suitable for storage and grinding.
  • The endosperm of malted grain has been modified during germination and is more pliable compared to the hard endosperm of the original grain kernel.
  • Malted grain has much higher enzymatic values than raw grain.
  • Malted grain has a flavor and aroma that differs from raw grain due to the germination and kilning process. These components can be easily extracted during the starch conversion and fermentation processes.

Why is Barley preferred for Brewing and Traditional Whiskey Distilling?

If we want to explore the real reasons for the original use of barley, it would turn into a history lesson about agriculture, climatic conditions, etc.

If we want to explore the reasons for the continued use of barley, it would be a discussion of tradition, marketing, and consumer expectations.

However, there are some technical reasons, although less important than the others, that are still relevant.

  • Barley is one of the hardiest cereal grains and can be malted more easily than any other cereal grain type.
  • Malted barley provides flavor, enzymes, essential nutrients for yeast metabolism, and, in the case of beer, color as well.
  • The hydrolytic enzymes developed in malted barley break down endosperm cell walls, proteins, and starches in both barley and adjuncts (additional grains added to the mash).
  • Physically, barley protects the kernel during malting and provides the filter bed for wort filtration in the mash tun.

While many attributes of barley are shared by other grain types, one undeniable fact is that the enzyme concentration in malted barley is much higher. This means that when using malted barley, we only need to malt a percentage of our grain bill, instead of malting the entire grain bill when using other grains.

What does a Barley Kernel consist of?

A barley kernel consists of four main parts:

  • The outer layers (husk, pericarp, and testa) surround the endosperm and protect the mature kernel from microbiological spoilage.
  • The endosperm is the starch-bearing portion of the grain, along with the aleurone layer, which is an enzyme source.
  • The embryo is the germ viability portion of the grain. It contains the root and acrospire of the young barley plant and initiates the growth cycle when hydrated.
  • The scutellum and epithelium are additional sources of hydrolytic enzymes.

How does a Distiller determine which Barley Cultivars are suitable for Malt Production?

Some varieties of barley are bred solely for feed production, while others are intended for malt production. Feed barley varieties are bred for maximum agricultural yield, with less attention given to the criteria critical for producing high-quality malt.

Varieties intended for malt production have been bred specifically for this purpose. They germinate well, withstand the kilning process without excessive enzyme loss, and provide a good combination of enzymes, carbohydrates, and flavor. These qualities contribute to successful conversions, higher yields, and flavorful products for distillers.

What factors influence the quality of Barley?

Many factors influence barley quality, including the varietal, climatic conditions, soil conditions, and storage practices.

A cool, moist growing season favors plumper crops with lower protein content, while a hot, dry growing season produces thinner, higher-protein barley with lower levels of extracts.

The timing of planting can also affect quality. Planting early allows the crop to mature before the hot, dry portion of the summer and avoids late-season frost damage. Irrigation can help produce more uniform, higher-quality crops.

Crop rotation, previous fertilization, and disease caused by microorganisms from corn residue can all impact barley quality.

Harvesting and storage conditions also play a significant role. Excessive rain during harvesting may result in stained and sprout-damaged barley. Improper storage can reduce quality, with moisture content and insect control being critical factors.

How soon should Barley be Malted, and how is it stored?

Barley harvesting occurs over a period of one to two months, and the harvested barley needs to be stored for at least 12 months before full-scale malting.

Storage bins or silos, commonly made of concrete or steel, are used for storing barley. Grain is conveyed mechanically to the bin or silo and discharged into a conveyor that leads to an elevator leg. Proper air-drying and effective insect control during storage are essential for maintaining barley quality.

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