Uptown Beer Blog

Malt - Part 3/4 Beer Ingredients

Welcome Back!

This is part 3 of 4 about beer ingredients, where we take you to the farm and talk about malt. 

There are typically 2 types of grain that make modern day beer. First and most dominant is barley and second is wheat. Really there is probably a third category that can include all the other things you could throw in. Let's call this group 'adjuncts'.

The role of barley, wheat or other adjuncts in beer is to provide the sugar in the brewing process. Harvested from the field at a specific moisture level these grains are usually soaked until they are nearly ready to sprout. Once they reach the proper level of sproutiness they are removed from water and quickly dried. At this point the raw barley, wheat or adjunct is at the optimal sugar level. 

The drying process is referred to as malting. The grain is roasted and in some cases smoked. This malting process is the largest contributor to the colour of beer. The longer the grain is malted, the darker the grain, the darker the beer. This roasting or drying process also kills some of the sugar in the process making the darker grain less potent in the sugar extraction process. The least roasted malt is referred to as base malts. Base malts are added to most beer due to their high sugar content. Different varieties of roasted malts are combined with base malts to produce different levels of maltiness.

This malted grain is then broken down and ground up in a mill. This milling process makes the sugar in the grain more accessible. It is then added to hot water to draw out the sugar. This is called the mash. It is then drained and rinsed. The sugar water that was extracted is then put in another tank where it is boiled. Hops are added at this point in different amounts at different times to balance out the sweetness of the malt. From there is gets cooled (quickly) and the yeast is added. 

Once the yeast is added it does the work of converting the sugar into the alcohol. This is the process known as fermentation. Once the yeast has completed fermenting the mix is put in another tank to finish. This finishing allows all the ingredients to come together. From there is is bottled, canned, or kegged. 

Barley and wheat are used in nearly the same way. Barley is a good base for the beer whereas wheat is often less potent, but it usually can be used as a compliment to increase the head retention on a beer (the top layer of foam). The other adjuncts are processed in different ways. For example corn and oats are usually dried and flaked (just like oatmeal). Rice is also another major adjunct to add sugar without much flavour hindering. Rice and corn are the major contributors to many mainstream lagers. They are cost effective, light tasting and require small amounts of hops to balance the sweetness.

To be considered a beer the malt (sugar) must be made of at least 51% barley or wheat. There are beers out there that are made strictly from corn or rice, but those are traditionally drinks that are sacred to their country of origin. Peru makes a strictly corn based beer call Chicha, and the Chinese have a rice beer, which is actually the most ancient alcoholic beverage to be produced on a large scale. These traditions are still carried out in several cultures.

So back to the farm for a minute. Much of the barley and wheat used in beer grows extremely well in Canada and in regions of the Maritimes. Some famers in the area have also expanded operations to enable them to malt their grain once it has been harvested. This value added process can turn simple grain into wonderful locally grown malts. Horton Ridge in Nova Scotia is one of the leaders in the Maritimes for malting. They actually hand turn their grain as it dries in their traditional high ceiling malt house. You can find their malt making it into local beers across the maritimes. 

So once again, looking to the future of beer, it looks very similar to the past, where each region produces their own ingredients, making their flavours unique, supporting local economies and giving local beer lovers beer they can relate to. Farms are undertaking these value-added processes and driving quality up and cost down. Malt houses, hop yards, brewing equipment producers and even knowledgeable brewers have becoming in high demand. With our smaller Maritime communities relationships between this skilled beer savvy individuals are easy to build! So keep buying local and keep driving the economy! Not a hard concept to stand behind: just drink local beer!

Beer Uptown right now! - The season has changed, darker beer is beginning to emerge. Look for some unique darks coming to taps.

1. Beer to Drink Now!  - Winter Warmer, Picaroons - Is this maybe New Brunswick's best beer going? We talk a bunch about beer when we are out on the street, but everyone is talking about Winter Warmer. Most people say this year is the best batch yet. It wins this category because it is limited to the colder months, so get it now while it is fresh and handy...It is selling like hot cakes.

2. Gateway Beer! - Dirty Blonde, Nine Locks Brewing Company - Any type of blonde ale seems to be a good gateway beer for people. This one is no exception and it has some great subtle flavours that will not turn someone away from craft beer. It is light, crisp and slightly tart, but mostly balanced. Not surprising, but not intending to be.

3. Most Crowd Pleasing! - Kitchen Party Pale Ale, Big Spruce Brewing - Easy to drink, easy to love, organic, local malts. Not overly adventurous but making a good pale ale seems to be key in understanding how to make other good beer. Great for the everyday beer lover.

4. Most Adventurous!  -  Java Moose Coffee Porter, Hammond River Brewing - Exactly as it sounds. A marriage of Saint John's most famous Java Moose Coffee (Foghorn) in the perfect winter style of beer. Foghorn coffee is dark yet smooth and low in acid. This beer encompasses this taste as well. Smooth, rich and silky. Really cool brew that has been around for a few years now!

Thanks again for following us! A bit of a lengthy post, but we had some catching up to do. Next we will take a break from the ingredients and talk about Christmas. Stay tuned and get out there to support local!


Derek Dygos