As the days grow dark and dreary, we enter the season of unabashed cask love. Comforting, robust, easy-drinking yet complex… pure malty goodness.
Here in the Tap Room, Team BBF clutch our pints of Fortitude and remember warmer weather. In particular, we’re reminiscing about our summertime fieldtrip to Warminster Maltings. The sun shone, the pints flowed… and we learned a few things about the history of malts!
Find yourself a cozy pub and a pint of proper cask. It’s time for malt talk.
Traditionally, beer is made from four simple ingredients: water, malts, yeast, and hops. Hops get a lot of glory. But malts are the backbone of beer, the platform brewers build upon.
In simplest terms, malt is a grain that has been artificially germinated. Barley is the most common, but you’ll also find malts from wheat, rye, corn, oats, and even rice. Pretty much: if it’s a cereal grain, you can malt it.
Maltsters transform grain into malt through several steps:
• Cleaning – removes field impurities from the grain seeds
• Steeping – allows the grain to absorb water over a few days, stimulating growth
• Germinating – breaks down proteins, converting starches into fermentable sugars
• Kilning – exposes the malts to high temperatures over time to halt growth & develop sugars
Once the malt has been kilned, it’s time for brewers to take over.
Malt is basically food for yeast. During the brewing process, the base malts give yeast the nutrients necessary for fermentation (i.e. creating alcohol). Flavouring malts, added toward the end of the brew day, impact the final taste and colour profile of the beer.
Kind of like coffee beans, the roast of the grains impacts the final flavour of the beer. Light-roasted malts create pale beers. Dark-roasted malts create porters and stouts.
A Brief History of Malts
Hundreds of years ago, there used to be a malt house about every ten miles in the UK. (Humans have cultivated malt since antiquity.)
In 1644, the Crown introduced a malt tax to help finance the English Civil War. Why target malts? Basically, it was easy for tax collectors to identify malt houses thanks to their requisite kiln chimneys.
Of course… maltsters developed ways to evade this tax (think false floors and malts smuggled out of windows). Eventually, the government brought in malthouse building regulations in the 19th century – an age when breweries typically had their own malting facilities.
Today, breweries across the UK source malts from just a handful of maltsters. The vast majority of these companies do pneumatic malting (i.e. using machines to turn the malts during the germination process). But there’s one place still making malts by hand: Warminster Malting.
Warminster Malting has been making traditional floor malt since 1855. They now source barley from 500-1000 farmers across the country.
Architecture continues to play an important role in the history of malts. Germination relies on ambient temperatures, so the layout of the malting floors is specifically designed to create airflow. Not to mention, some maltsters believe that the physical building housing the malting floors contribute to the final flavour of the malts.
More Malts, Please!
Here at BBF, we love hops. But we’re pretty keen on malts as well.
One of our core beers, Fortitude, is a malt-forward beer of epic proportion. It unites six British malts, designed to showcase one another in surprising amber complexity.
We’ve also got a rotating selection of cask specials that celebrate all the body and flavour malts offer. Come into the Tap Room to taste ‘em for yourself!