A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MALTSTER
Written By Jared Stober
Malt usually takes the backseat in most people’s eyes as most consumers think beer comes from hops and water. You of course know that is not the case. I am going to dive into what goes into making a batch of malt.
The first step to making high quality malt starts with the farmer. Having high quality grain is essential to making high quality malt. Once the grain is harvested, we test to make sure it is hitting malting grade specifications. If everything checks out, we then have the grain cleaned to sort out any inconsistencies and then brought into our malting facility.
The whole malting process takes about a week to produce a batch of malt. Once grain arrives, we auger it into our steep tanks to begin the first step in the malting process. Steeping is essentially soaking the grain in water while also delivering oxygen to ensure proper moisture uptake in the kernel. We submerge the grain underwater then drain the tank and let it air rest to allow the grain to continue gaining moisture. We then repeat that process until we hit the desired moisture content which usually takes about 2 days.
Once the grain hits moisture we then transfer into our Germination Kiln Vessel or GKV. This is where we trick the grain into thinking it is growing in the ground and starts the germination process which converts the starches in the grain into sugars which you need in the brewing process. While germinating we are looking at external and internal growth to ensure the grain is growing properly. We turn the grain twice per day to break up any significant rootlet growth and have proper airflow throughout the grain bed. This process typically takes 3-4 days and we are taking multiple moisture samples per day to see if we need to do additional steps such as watering the grain to spike growth. We are also checking the acrospire length which is a key indicator on how the kernel is modifying. Once we get about 90-100% acrospire length we then move into kilning, the final step of the malting process.
Kilning is really where the magic happens as it gives the malt its flavor characteristics. Kilning last around 24-48 hours depending on what we are making but we are really drying out the grain and adding heat to provide flavor and color. The malting recipe up until kilning stays roughly the same between base and specialty malts however we introduce higher temperatures if we are making a specialty malt vs if we are making a base malt.
Once kilning is completed, we vacuum out the grain and then goes through a series of cleaners to remove rootlets and any inconsistencies. Once the grain is cleaned, we send out a sample to a third-party lab and start packaging the malt to get shipped out to brewers like you.
So, malting, like brewing, is a lot of hurry up and wait while spending a lot of time cleaning during the “waiting” period.