G - like barley malt

G wie Gerstenmalz - St. Kilian Whisky ABC

What is barley malt?

Barley malt is produced by malting barley. This production step describes a controlled germination process in which enzymes are formed or activated in the barley grain, which break down the stored reserve substances - such as starch and proteins - into smaller fragments. This changes the chemical composition as well as the consistency and taste of the barley grains. By far the most commonly malted cereal is barley. In addition, other cereals such as corn, wheat, oats and rye can also be malted.

What barley is used?

One of the most important ingredients for the production of whisky is barley malt. In order to produce a single malt whisky, as is the case at St. Kilian Distillers, the exclusive use of malted barley is even prescribed. The barley used in the whisky industry is usually the two-row, nodding spring barley. This is a variety of barley that is sown in the spring and harvested after just under 100 days. Only one grain develops per attachment point, which is large and full. The long ear of nodding barley, also called land barley, is narrow and slopes during its maturity.

How is barley malt produced?

Malting barley is a complex process that usually takes place in large-scale malting plants - such as the Weyermann® malt factory, a medium-sized family business based in Bamberg. The barley grains are soaked in water and then allowed to germinate in a controlled manner. Finally, the water is removed from the resulting green malt by drying. During the germination process, natural enzymes are formed in the barley grain or converted from their inactive to their active form. As catalysts, these enzymes accelerate certain biochemical reactions and, among other things, convert the starch contained in the barley grain into simpler sugar components and proteins into smaller proteins. As a result of this natural, enzymatic breakdown, the malted grain - compared with the hard and tasteless barley grain - is significantly softer in consistency and sweet in taste.

Which smoked malts are used?

Various types of barley malt are considered for the production of whisky. In the whisky industry, a basic distinction is made between smoked and unsmoked malt. For the smoked malt, we at St. Kilian Distillers use on the one hand beech smoked malt from Germany, where the barley malt has been kilned over beech wood fires. Another malt that is very important to us is peat smoke malt, which we obtain directly from Glenesk Maltings in Scotland. This barley malt is smoked with the help of peat smoke, which is produced when dried peat is burned. This peat smoke contains the typical, highly aromatic phenols that adhere to the malt grain and are later found in the matured whiskey - usually in low concentrations.

What influence does kilning have on the malt?

Smoked malts make up only a small part at St. Kilian. The largest proportion of malt processed by us is non-smoked malt. The main part is made up of Pilsner malt. This is also the standard malt used in German breweries to produce Pilsner or export beer. The malt can be altered by varying the heat exposure during kilning. The longer the kilning and the higher the temperature, the darker the malt. This is because chemical reactions of amino acids with sugars in the grain, the so-called Maillard reaction, form roasted aromas and colorants that make the malt darker. Roasted malts turn very dark to black as a result of additional caramelization of sugars and look almost like small roasted coffee beans.

What should be considered when using roasted malts?

Roasted malts bring with them aromas of chocolate and bread crust. But it should be noted that the stronger roasting or caramelization of the malts consumes sugar, which is later missing in the alcoholic fermentation. This lack of sugar is reflected in a low yield of alcohol. The brewer must take this into account when using roasted malts in his malt blend and increase the amount of malt used accordingly to achieve a consistent alcohol yield. In addition, it must be noted that the high temperatures during kilning weaken or destroy the temperature-sensitive enzymes formed in the roasted malt and are thus no longer available for the breakdown of starch. For this reason, roasted malts are only added to a small percentage of the respective malt blends for the production of beer or whiskey.

Which malts are used at St. Kilian?

At St. Kilian Distillers, we use both smoked and unsmoked malt.

Smoked malt:

  • Beech smoke malt (from Germany)
  • Peat smoked malt (from Scotland)

Non-smoked malt:

  • Pilsner malt
  • Heimat Malt (organic barley from Reichartshausen by farmer Andreas Henn)
  • Barke Malz® (two-row historic summer malting barley)
  • Munich malt type 2
  • Viennese malt
  • Caramünch®
  • CaraAroma®

What flavors are obtained with Munich malt?

If, for example, the somewhat darker, light-brown Munich malt is used for the production of whiskey, in contrast to the light Pilsener malt, then after alcoholic fermentation in the beer and also later - after distillation and maturation in wooden barrels - the whiskey contains fewer fruity notes, but more malty aromas of caramel and bread. These come from the somewhat more strongly kilned Munich malt.

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