Home Brew Malt Germination

Barley is the primary ingredient of beer and pretty much all malts are derived from this one single grain… there are of course some exceptions like wheat and rye malt among others, which are made from wheat and rye grains respectively…

But what exactly is Germination?

Let’s just say that without germination, there ain’t no malt… If you take the barley grain by itself and you do nothing to it, then it’s just that, a pure grain of barley… although we homebrewers like to call this barley, un-malted barley…

If on the other hand, you take barley and you soak it, the grain will start to germinate, which means it begins to sprout or develop into a plant… I guess that’s what happens to seeds when you add water to them… (go figure)…

Anyways…

This is what malting is all about, except, the grain is not allowed to sprout or fully germinate… the grain is only allowed to develop long enough so that the nutrients become available for brewers. More specifically we are looking for the starches which will be converted into sugars, but also break down large proteins into more soluble proteins.

The extent to which germination is allowed in a grain is called modification. So whenever you hear about a highly modified malt, it means that the grain was going through the process of germination longer… why is this important?

Well, for extract brewers this is just Chinese and it doesn’t mean crap since we are using Extract, but whenever you decide to move up to all-grain and start looking at different malts to mash and stuff, then just know that highly modified malts are easier to brew with as far as converting starches into sugar. Less modified malts will require other mashing techniques to help convert the sugars…

So that’s pretty much what germination is all about…

You can see germination first hand by taking a bean and throwing it into a styrofoam cup with water and within a few days you’ll see a little plant grow… or you can take some spelt grains and soak in water and let them dry over and over and you’ll see them sprout… that’s pretty much the same thing done by malsters when it comes to germinating malt, whether it’s barley, wheat, rye, etc.

To stop the grains from growing into a plant, the malsters will throw the grains into a kiln, which is much like an oven used to dry up the grains and stop the germination process. Kilns are also used to dry hops before they are packaged into whole leaf, plugs or pellet hops… otherwise you’d be getting wet hops, which by the way make some really good beers as well!…

Anyways, when the grains come out of these kilns they come out as base malts depending on the temperature at which it was kilned (heated)… Some malts are not kilned and go straight into roasting and that’s how you get all kinds of specialty malts.

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