Ever think of making your malt to homebrew with? Uncertain you can do it? Sure you can. You can make your malt and thus have complete control over its roastiness, diastatic power, everything.
I have a couple of friends wanting to reproduce medieval beers starting from scratch – they’re growing old varieties of barley and/or wheat and hops, and will take them through all the steps to make beer. One of those steps is malting your barley. Why do you malt barley, or any grain for that matter? Malting – the process of germinating, drying, and possibly roasting your grain – makes starches, proteins, and enzymes more available for conversion by yeast. You can make beer from unmalted grains – lots of parts of the world do (think rice or sorghum beers) – but in the West we primarily use malted barley and wheat, with unmalted ingredients used for special flavor or texture.
Why malt barley or wheat? Barley has about the best conversion values. Wheat isn’t far behind, but wheat doesn’t tend to have a husk that makes for a good filter bed when you get to that stage, and tends to have more protein, which can lead to a haze in the finished beer. In this day and age most beers are clear – not all, particularly not wheat beers. Generally you don’t use more than 50% malted wheat in your beer batch’s grain bill.
The thing is, even in olden times maltsters were professionals. Malting is a bit tricky: you have to sort your grains by size, variety and moisture; germinate them without drowning or rotting the grain; dry them evenly; then kiln or roast them just as evenly with pretty exact temperature controls and possibly varying temperatures, if you’re trying to add some color to your beer. I haven’t yet seen a recipe or inventory that showed medieval maltsters were making different levels of roast like we do now, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t. Chances are, a maltster would have a touch for a particular level of roastiness, or possibly roast it unevenly. Back when folks used to live agricultural lives, and made a lot more of their valium online real consumable foods than folks in the city did, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t buy raw materials from a professional. A fair number probably did not malt their own grain. It takes a particular setting (germination pools, malting floors) and is time- and attention-consuming, and cumbersome to manage in the quantities a farmstead would need.
Your local maltster would to a large degree determine what kind of beer you made at home. There probably were only so many places that had access to more than one maltster, so what the local guy made is what you got. I keep an eye out for hints of what local olden time beer was really like, but beer was so common and made so often that there is relatively little detail about it written down. Of course, I used to say that about Middle Eastern brewing, and it turned out I just didn’t know where to look yet.
As you know, I’m taking the Beer Judge Certification Program class, the first step in a long and arduous process to become a nationally ranked beer judge. In the process he assigned me a presentation on Malt. The instructor sent me some background papers that I think are so good they should be shared. The first one is an overview of how malting actually works. Mark Stevens wrote it and the Homebrew Digest published it. I went looking for this issue and found it; I did not see this article in its index. Homebrew Digest’s search function couldn’t find it by either author or title, but who knows how the title is indexed? So, I’m going with this being written by Mark Stevens, and probably published in the Homebrew Digest. Here’s the linked document (.pdf):
That doesn’t answer how to make your own, but this does. It’s by William Starr Moake, from the August 1997 issue of Brew Your Own:
So if you try it, write me and tell me how it went. Remember that some of the darker roasts smoke a lot while you make them. You may want to take them outside!