By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor Lew Bryson
We talk about malt a lot when we talk about beer: barley malt, dark malt, malt liquor, blah-blah-blah.
Fine, but what the heck is malt?
Malt is both basic and complex. Simply, it is grain that has been wet down to trick it into sprouting, and then heated in a kiln to kill the poor little sprout.
It's cruel and dramatic: The tiny grain sprouts in hopes of growing into more grain. Yeah, grain! But bold man cuts short its life to make malt for beer ... a better end than the grain could have imagined.
Why do we do that? The sprouting process releases enzymes that transform the hard starches in the grain into softer starches. These soft starches can be converted into sugars by cooking the malted barley in a brew kettle. Yeasts then eat those sugars (it's called fermentation) to create alcohol.
Then you have beer.
We mostly use barley to make malt for beer, but other grains – wheat, rye, even quinoa – can be malted. Barley is the best for several reasons. It's never really been popular for much else, except whisky (and that's kind of in the family), so there's not much competition to use it. Barley grows with a husk that makes a great ready-made filter when it's time to drop the sugary water out of the malt soup to make beer.
Best of all, throw in some hops and a good, feisty yeast, and, well, barley malt makes really good-tasting beer.
There are a lot of different ways to make malt (we talked about dark malt before). The malt-maker can vary the temperature or time in the kiln, the humidity in the kiln, or put smoke in the kiln. That will all have an effect on the color and flavor of the beer. So will the hops and yeast choices, and we'll talk about them soon.
But malt is the fuel for the beer, the heart of the beer: simple ... and complex.
Past lessons at Sam Adams University:
Dec. 28, 2006 - India Pale Ale
Dec. 21, 2006 - Ale vs. Lager
Dec. 14, 2006 - Dark Beers