When touring the English countryside, you may come across many towns and villages with a building or a street called "The Maltings". 150 years ago, this would have been a place where barley is turned into malt as the first stage in making it into beer.

The buildings are on two storeys. The upper one was used to germinate barley grains; the lower floor supplying heat and air circulation to assist the germination. Above this is a swivelling cowl similar to those found on oast houses, to provide ventilation without allowing the rain to get in. At one end of the building is a kiln, used for stopping the germination and drying the malt ready for delivery to the brewery.

              /\   cowl
             /  \_____         
               /       \
              /         \
             /           \
-------------             |
                     |    |
 g r a i n           |kiln|
 - - - - - - - - - - - -  |
                        | |
                       /  |

Why the traditional maltings are no longer in use

Traditional maltings produce a brown malt, suitable for brewing brown ale, and can also produce blown malt, used for London Porter (q.v.). The first half of the 19th century saw the heyday of London porter. Recipes for London porter from this time include Ware brown malt. This is referring to the Hertfordshire town of Ware, which was a maltings town, which had the kind of maltings described above.

The invention of India pale ale (grandfather of modern bitter), and its subsequent popularity, caused a shift in demand to paler malts (which yield more maltose relative to higher sugars - maltose, glucose and sucrose are fermentable into alcohol, higher sugars are not), which the Ware style maltings were not able to produce.

If you want to brew a London porter, blown malt is difficult to find, but an equivalent colour and taste can be obtained by using a combination of pale malt and a small percentage of chocolate malt; connoisseurs probably would be able to tell this apart from a porter brewed with brown malt.

Nowadays, there are only a handful of working maltings, all in the barley growing regions. These are more malt factories, supplying bulk quantities to a large number of breweries.

The modern malting process

1. Dressing
Incoming barley is cleaned to remove husks by machine. It is then dried and stored in a grain silo.
2. Steeping
The grain is soaked in water, to absorb moisture for the germination.
3. Germination
The grain is encouraged to sprout. This is where natural enzymes turn the starch into sugar, to provide energy for the plant to start its growth. During the germination process, machinery turns the grains to ensure an equal exposure to the air and moisture.
4. Kilning
The grain is kilned to stop the germination. Different colours and flavours result from different times and temperatures of kilning.
  • Crystal malt is very lightly kilned. This malt is used for making lager and light ale.
  • Pale malt is used in making IPA and most bitters.
  • Chocolate malt is strongly caramelized and is almost burnt. This malt is used to brew stouts such as Guinness.

Malt products

  • Beer. Malt grains are supplied to the breweries for their mash tuns

  • Malt Vinegar. Usually a by-product of breweries - where brews have gone wrong.

  • Malt Whiskey

  • Malt extract. Modern maltings have their own mash tuns, and produce the syrupy malt extract or wort which can be used in home brewing. A.A. Milne is responsible for drawing attention to malt extract as Roo's (and Tigger's) strengthening medicine.

  • Breakfast Cereal. Malted grains are a major ingredient in some breakfast cereals, e.g. Shreddies.

  • Malt drink. Unfermented malt is being sold as a health drink.


Muntons website: http://www.muntons.com

Martyn Cornell: Beer - The story of the pint

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