M is for Malt
Malted barley, hops, water and yeast – the four ingredients you’ll see on the side of most beer bottles.
Though hops add a balancing bitterness, and yeast can impart flavour while turning sugars into alcohol, nothing has a bigger impact on the overall experience of enjoying a beer than the malt used in its production.
Malt affects colour, taste, aroma, body, mouthfeel, and head retention. These little grains impart a myriad of characteristics to beer, and you’d do well to better understand them and how they impact your favourite brew.
Malted barley, or malt, is the primary source of sugars which are fermented in beer. The process of turning barley into malt (malting) allows brewers to have access to all the seed’s resources (fermentables like starch) – most of which would remain locked away.
There are over 75 different types of malt from around the world with new examples being added yearly. These can be broken down into two broad categories – base and specialty malts.
Base malts, such as pale malt, make up the bulk of the beer’s fermentable sugars. In order to add to complexity and taste of these “plain Jane” grains, maltsters will sometimes roast them at a higher temperature to create variety. The results are malts such as Munich, Biscuit and Vienna whose flavour profiles are significantly different from pale malt. As an example, Vienna is kilned slightly more than Pilsner malt. The result is a fuller bodied beer with a golden colour.
Specialty malts are used strictly for their flavouring qualities, as they have a very low fermentable value. They’re higher in complex sugars which can lend to the “caramel sweetness” often written about in tasting notes. Caramel or crystal malts include crystal 40 and crystal 60. The number denotes a colour grade on the Lovibond scale. The higher the number, the darker the colour.
Within specialty malts, we also have roasted malts. Remember stout you enjoyed last winter? You can thank roasted malts for those notes of coffee and chocolate – not to mention its nearly pitch black colour. These malts have had their sugars charred by roasting at high temperatures, resulting in a dark red to black appearance. Examples include Black Patent Malt and Chocolate malt. Because they’re so potent, they’re generally added as a smaller percentage of the malt bill.
It’s the brewer’s job to take this massive list, and select the malts that will lend the characteristics they’re looking for. This part of recipe development can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of brewing. With so many possible combinations, the chance of coming up with the next “Pliney the Elder” is part of what drives brewers to experiment.
Experimentation drives the growth of craft. That’s why you’ll always find different brews on our rotating lines at The Taproom. Devil’s Peak strives to innovate and evolve in order to bring its fans unique and interesting beers!