Malted Barley is one of the four main beer making ingredients and although it is of little use for anything
else, it is well suited for the beer making process. Barley is a cereal grain which is similar to wheat or oats.
However, it does not mill too well into flour but when crushed and dried in a process called malting, it forms the
perfect base for making the prime ingredient in Wort, the liquid that is fermented into beer.
Barley grows in an assortment of types, distinguished only by the number of seeds on the stalk of the plant.
Two, four or six seeds form the bulk of barley plants, with European brewers traditionally preferring the two row
type and Americans more often the six row.
Two row barley malts well, and has a higher level starch to husk ratio than the four or six row variety. That
leads to rich, malty brews of the type preferred by the English. U.S. brewers often prefer the six row, mainly for
economic reasons, but also for its higher concentration of enzymes. Those enzymes aid in converting the starch into
fermentable sugars, primarily maltose.
The malting process starts by soaking the barley grain which causes it to begin germination. Small roots sprout
at which point the grain is kiln dried, crushed and then roasted.
The point at which the roasting step is carried out plays a major role in determining the color and flavor of
the final product. Roasting stops the germination process and when stopped at the right time, leaves needed enzymes
One of those enzymes, called diastase, is mainly responsible for converting barley starch into maltose, the
sugar that yeast converts into alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Carried out further, roasting can
destroy those enzymes but at the same time can add flavors to the final product. Both actions are typically part of
The roasted grain then goes through a process called Mashing, in which the starches are converted into sugars
and dissolved in hot water to make wort, in the first stage of brewing. Most home brew kits containing malt are in
reality dried wort.
Malted barley preparation is a science in itself and brew chemists are constantly striving to better the
process. Given that there are over 800 compounds in beer, many of which are contributed by the malt, that is no
Malting has an important effect on the flavor, naturally. But even the best malting processes can inadvertently
add unpleasant characteristics to the starting material of beer. Malt components can cause bottom fermenting yeast,
which is used in lagers, to flocculate or gather prematurely. That in turn can produce off flavors, alter the
foaming character, produce haze and even introduce toxins into beer.
Flavor is not only influenced by the maltose, but also by the organic acids produced from germinating. Those
organic acids help balance the sweetness of the sugar with sour aspects. The bitter aspect comes primarily from the
hops added during the brewing process.
One of the most remarkable features of malt is just how uniform brewers are able to make it, given its natural
variation. Barley is the same as any other agricultural product in that it's components can and do vary in relative
concentration from plant to plant. and also where that plant is grown.
Keeping one brand or type of beer the same from bottle to bottle depends to a large extent on keeping the malt
uniform from batch to batch. Weather, soil management, grain size, soaking and drying time, crushing styles and
much more contribute to the final result. The techniques used to accomplish uniformity would fill several
So, next time you are brewing up a batch at home or just downing a pint at your local pub, think for a moment
about the starting ingredient and the effort needed to produce and use it. Without grapes there would be no wine
and without malted barley there would be no beer.