Musings of Malting
There is a sharp note to the air: one that begs the companionship of apples, pumpkins and the sweet redolence of ripe fallen leaves. It's this time of year that the brew bug breaks dormancy and bites down hard. Maybe those fairytale witches aren't making potions in their caulrons but beer, cackling away over malty wort. For me, it's not the brewing, it's the malting that fascinates me. I can't help but wonder about all the minutiae offlavor profiles that could be enhanced or completely soured right from the get go.
I create malt for my brother who owns a craft brewery called "The Black Hackle". A fantastic place in Nomansland, a village in Ignus Fatuus, that keeps the locals happy and the farmers supplied with sweet spent malt for the livestock. It's also the secret to the bread at "Pocket Fullah Rye" bakery.
We all know malt as something that makes ice cream swoon as we slurp it up through straws but creating malt is just as decadent.
Here's your science lesson for the day. Homeschoolers...this is your ticket to a science project that's legit and bonus!, you can turn it into a coping mechanism for dealing with beligerent learners. So, malt, barney style is simply grain that you've let sprout just a tiny bit, then killing it by drying it and then roasting it. Simple. There is an art to it but in essence it's a very simple process.
Soaking the grain: This is what starts the germination process.
Germination: The part where the grain converts the starch into sugar to supply the energy needed for the task of growing into a plant.
Killing it: It's not so murderous as it sounds and it's necessary. Drying the sprouts stops the germination and keeps that sugar in place which is what is needed for the yeast to eat and essentially crap out alcohol.
Roasting it: Roasting gives flavor. Darker beers have had the malt roasted for longer, lighter ones for less.
If you don't know by now, I can't just leave well enough alone. Why not start at the beginning? Seed starting. Water and grain...but why plain old water? How about infused water? What about a handful of malted coriander? See where I"m going? My point is, there HAS to be a flavor nuances left behind in the finished product of malt. If I were a cat, curiosity would have surely killed me by now.
So on my shelves at home in my butler's pantry (no, I don't have a butler. If having a butler pantry is wrong...then I don't wanna be right) I have jug after jug of finished grains malted to specific toastiness. They are only sold mixed after a brewery requests a certain flavor profile. Each container is its own grain. When you walk into the pantry you're immediately hit by the weight of the heady, bready aroma swirling around as an invisible breath of barley exhalation. It feeds your soul, you're very inner core. It feels, good.
Before it rested in the containers and before it was toasted, it was germinated in what I'm coining here as a "flavor drench". Essentially, it's infused water or hydrosol (this is the super fragranced water left behind after distilling herbs, flowers, etc.-orange flower water and rose water are both hydrosols) that is used to soak into the grain to start the germinating process.
When starting the germination process it's important to know that you can't just let the grains sit in the drench. You soak them. Then drain them. Then allow them to germinate...rinsing them or misting with a spray bottle every so often with the drench as well as turning them. Mold is not your friend here so you need to always be on the lookout for that. Pitch the whole lot if you see any. Once it starts germinating you'll see a tiny root looking thing coming out of the seed (which is what the grain is...a seed), allow it to grow until that little white rootlet is about the same length of the grain itself.
Get your big girl panties on here (or man-up, but really some of ya'll need big girl panties too) and some intestinal fortitude and prep for death, 'cause it's killin' time.
I'm not going to go into detail much here because there is a A LOT of variation as to temperature and times for your desired result. Basics here are lower temp/less time=lighter roast/lighter flavor and color; higher temp/more time=darker roast/deeper flavor and color. You can do combinations of time and temp, obviously, but two things are very important here. You need to make sure the grain is BONE dry when you're done and that's not necessarily going to happen in the oven or toasting device. Post toasting, a fan or dehydrator will be your friend. Second, if you want good results you'll need to be spot on consistent. With every. Single. Part. From the start to finish.
*(ahem--I'm telling you to write it down...in a journal. Go now. No, no...don't tell me you'll remember. You won't.)*
All beer basically needs barley to be beer and hops (otherwise unhopped beer is or was called brackett). So all of the following have barley as a base grain and I feel no need to expound upon that. Know that the following grains are in small proportion.
Hops are covered by the brewer...not me.
These are some of the craft malts that are in the brews at "The Black Hackle".
Flavor Drench: Maple water (maple sap) infusion of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger
Grains: kamut, and pumpkin seeds
Brandy barrel aged
Flavor Drench: Jasmine flower hydrosol infused with ginger.
Grains: Brown rice, corn
Potion #9 Milk stout
Flavor Drench-Rose water
Sauternes barrel aged
Flavor Drench: elderflower water with honey
Flavor Drench: Orange blossom water, vanilla and honey
Grains: Brown rice, bitter apricot kernels
Highlay-sour bier (bacterial fermentation)
Flavor drench: clove water
Grains: mustard seed, caraway
If you stop in at The Black Hackle, tell my bro Josh I sent you! He'll give you a free taster of the craft malt brew on special. Also, if you're in the market for spent malt for livestock, hit him up as well. He has plenty of specialty craft malt and regular barley malt for you at reasonable pricing.
*For those of you totally confused right now, this is all PRETEND...none of this is real but could be if you wanted it to be. Or take it as a jumping off point and let the wheels in your own mind churn creativity into reality.
Sparkle On! Annie