Considered by brewers to be the ‘soul of beer’, malt barley became the grain of choice for brewing early on and started to dominate in Europe in the 17th century. Today, malt barley is grown across Canada and is the fourth largest crop produced nationally, which equates to over 500,000 tonnes of malt exported per annum.
Canadian malts are of the highest quality on the market due to varietal purity and boast unique characters and the ability to be used to make any type of beer. Assured varietal purity means that Canadian malt is more consistent than that from other countries and consequently offers brewers greater flexibility in brewing processes and diversity of use. High quality is key, and high yield in the field equates to exceptional beer.
Cream of the Crop
Of all cereal crops, barley is the most sensitive and responsive to the environment and how it is handled and stored. To qualify for malt, barley crops are thoroughly tested and graded by maltsters for specific qualities required for successful malting. Kernels are evaluated based on colour, odor and damage as well as germination capacity, moisture content, plumpness and levels of protein.
While over 5.8 million acres of barley is seeded in Canada annually, only 25 per cent of that actually qualifies for malting and the evaluation doesn’t stop there. Quality control continues throughout the malting process to ensure that the chemical and physical characteristics required by customers are achieved. These high standards ensure that Canadian malt meets expectations and continues to be a globally sought after commodity.
The Modification Process
Malted barley is the result of a cereal grain that has been dried, allowed to spout, re-dried and then heated, producing the perfect combination of the starch, enzymes, protein, vitamins and minerals necessary for brewing. A raw and stable material, malt is the primary grain used in beer production as well as a majority of malted whiskey.
The malting process involved four stages; steeping, germination, kilning and roasting.
In this step, water is added to increase the moisture content of the grain from approximately 12 per cent to 45 per cent. Once accepted for malting, malt barley is submerged in water, then drained and left to air dry. This cycle is completed two to three times in succession, in order to achieve the target moisture content.
Germination also begins during this processes and specialized equipment is used to manage the heat and carbon dioxide that is produced as a result. Seed germination is a desired activity and one that is further encouraged during stage two. Once steeping is complete, consistent hydration will be evident throughout the seed, in addition to the sprouting.
This is a ‘control’ phase in malting with the ultimate goal of growing barley grains. The seeds are left to germinate for four to five days, allowing for malt enzymes to develop. These enzymes are needed to break down starch in the mashing stage of the brewing process. Seeds remain in the grain bed and the maltster is responsible for controlling the temperature, humidity and oxygen flow during the entire process, which will dictate the type of malt being created.
Kilning is when the grains are heated, causing them to dry while simultaneously stopping germination activity. Airflow and temperature can be varied in the kiln, and as such influence colour and flavour profiles. Once kilning is complete, the malt is left to cool and then remaining rootlets that sprouted during germination are removed.
Roasting lasts approximately two to three hours at a temperature ranging between 275 and 350 degrees Celsius, and will further enhance the colour and flavour of the seeds. This stage prompts additional chemical reactions and can produce a variety of flavours in the malt that are similar to toast, bread, honey, nuts, toffee, coffee and chocolate. These flavours will then become amplified in the brewing processes and are what creates different types, styles and flavours of beer.
From Grains to Pint Glass – Brewing 101
In order for beer to be defined as such, it must be comprised of at least 60 per cent malted barley, which is then combined with water to create a sweet liquid (wort) and allowed to ferment with yeast. Brewing dates back to the 6th millennium BC, with recipes varying across civilizations around the world and archeological records indicating that women were the primary brewers up until the time of industrialization.
The primary ingredients required for making beer include water, a starch source such as malt barley that will be fermented, yeast to activate the fermentation process and hops to add flavour, bitterness and aroma to the brew and offset the overall sweetness of the malt. Every batch of beer goes through 10 step process that includes:
- Malting – the process of preparing the grains for brewing
- Milling – grinding that breaks the grains and separates the seed and husk so that the starch is more readily exposed
- Mashing – helps convert the starches released during malting into sugars to then be fermented and produce a sugar-rich liquid called wort
- Lautering – where and how the wort is then strained
- Boiling – wort is then moved to a large kettle where it is boiled with hops for 60 to 90 minutes (this is where numerous chemical reactions occur including enzymatic process termination)
- Fermenting – yeast is added and the liquid sits in a tank where the fermentation then takes place
- Conditioning – the two to four week period where the beer matures and ages
- Filtering – the process that removes yeast and any remaining solids, allowing flavours to stabilize and the clarity to be improved
- Packaging – bottles or cans that allow for the final product to be protected from the elements and get to the store shelf
Careful adjustments and modifications are made by the brew master at every step in the process to ensure the precise temperatures, measurements and PH are maintained, and that clarity and flavour are achieved. With more and more craft breweries opening and countless types of malt barley available, the varieties and flavours of beer that can be crafted are truly endless. The complex process of making beer begins with a simple yet significant grain and delivers delicious and desirable results.
From plant to harvest, to malt to brew, Canadian malt barley is second to none and has created a noteworthy economic diversification for countless farmers and brewers. Over 133 billion liters of beer is brewed around the world every year producing revenues in excess of $294 billion. With growing numbers of craft breweries popping up exponentially and a growing thirst for beer, the demand for malt is anticipated to continue. That’s great news for Canadian barley farmers and beer drinkers!
So the next time you have a cold one, you have yourself to thank . . . and we thank you too!
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