10 Solutions for Variable Malt Quality
WRITTEN BY CONTRIBUTOR MORGAN WALKER CLARKE
The quality of your beer depends on the quality of your malt. Ideally, you have access to consistent malt, but malt quality can vary for a host of reasons, not the least of which is Mother Nature. If you're dealing with variable malt quality, there are steps you can take throughout the brewing process to help compensate.
1. Know What Goes into High-Quality Malting Barley
The first solution to variable malt quality is to be familiar with the properties of high-quality malting barley. If you're familiar with what constitutes high-quality malting barley, you can work more closely with your maltster to ensure you're getting the malt you need for your specific brewing preferences and needs.
High-quality malting barley should be from a pure lot. It should also have a germination rate of 95 percent or higher and a moisture content of less than 13.5 percent. The kernels should look uniform and not show any signs of germinating before harvesting.
Your malting barley should be free from damage and disease, including damage from heat and weather. It should also be free of odor, chemical residue and insects. Less than 5 percent of the barley should have peeled or broken kernels.
2. Communicate with Your Maltster
If your malt quality is variable, you may want to blame your maltster. In many cases, though, your maltster may be dealing with issues that are out of his control. Keep the lines of communication open so you can get the best quality of malt possible.
One avenue of knowing precisely what's going on with your malt is to closely review your malt analysis. Make sure it's an actual lot analysis rather than one that covers average lots. Your malt analysis offers an abundance of information, including a physical analysis of the kernel and a wort and chemical analysis.
Thoroughly understanding your malt analysis can help you plan for any adjustments you need to make to your brewing process, including any additives you need, like beta glucanase. The beta glucans as measured by your maltster may vary from what you actually experience, but it can give you a general idea of what to expect.
If you have questions regarding the report or regarding your malt in general, ask your maltster and seriously consider their recommendations.
3. Plan for Variability
If you think your malt quality may be variable, plan accordingly. This might mean ordering more malt to get the same amount of extract. Pay close attention to your extract and check the gravity often. If you notice you're using more malt, make sure to order more ahead of time so you don't end up being unable to brew.
4. Measure Your pH
The pH levels in your mash are important whether your malt quality is variable or not, but they are even more important if you're compensating for variable malt quality. Use a pH meter to measure your mash pH. Look at your water analysis as well. Treat your water with lactic acid or phosphoric acid to lower the mash pH. Keeping your mash pH in the ideal range maximizes the effectiveness of the enzymes. The ideal mash pH is 5.3 to 5.4 when measured at 77° F and 5.1 to 5.3 when measured at 149° F.
5. Adjust Your Mash Cycle
If you're experiencing higher protein levels or issues with beta glucans, you may need to add rests to your mashing regimen. One option is adding a protein rest, which is effective at around 125° F at a pH of 4.2 to 5.3 for between 20 and 30 minutes. This helps break down peptones, polypeptides and peptides and helps to break down long-chain proteins. It can also improve clarity.
Consider a beta glucan rest, which is effective at between 113° F and 122° F for about 20 minutes at a pH between 4.5 and 5. A beta glucan rest can allow for the release of beta glucanase, which breaks down beta glucans that can cause haze and wort separation.
6. Adjust Conversion Practices
If your malt quality is variable, you may need to make changes to your conversion process. This might include adjusting your temperature up or down or increasing conversion times. If your malt is under modified, try keeping your conversion temperature below 152° F. This maximizes beta amylase activity. Beta amylase breaks down starches and creates fermentable sugars like maltose and glucose.
7. Monitor Fermentation
As you make changes to other steps of the brewing process, it's going to impact fermentation. Pay attention to changes in gravity, filtration and head retention. Adjust your fermentation time to compensate for other changes you've made.
8. Try Brewing & Processing Aids
Brewing aids can further assist you in dealing with variable malt quality. Brewing aids include beta glucanase that breaks down beta glucans, alpha amylase that is naturally found in barley, and proteases — enzymes that break down proteins. You can also find formulations that combine one or more of these elements.
Using a brewing aid can save money and time in the long run, but it might take some experimentation to find the right aid for your specific situation. If you're not sure where to start, talk to a reputable supplier about how brewing aids like enzymes can assist you when your malt quality isn't what you would like.
You may also want to consider implementing processing aids. Gelatin and isinglass help with suspended yeast. Silica gel and PVPP can lower polyphenol and proteins. In addition to compensating for malt quality, they can also decrease chill haze and increase shelf life and stability.
9. Try Different Malts
Try different malts to increase your malt quality. It can be expensive to import grains, but it might improve your process enough to compensate for the extra costs. Combining grains can help improve the overall quality of your malt blend. Make sure to do your research, though, to ensure importing malts will improve your situation.
10. Be Creative
You may need to try one or more of the methods discussed here to get your brew to the quality and flavor you prefer. There may be some trial and error. Connect with other brewers to find out what works for them. Research thoroughly, including reading brewing literature from reputable organizations.
Malt quality is subject to change, and some years will be more challenging than others. Mother Nature can be fickle, after all. With patience and persistence, though, you can find your way to brewing great beer.
Written by Morgan Walker Clarke. Morgan is a writer and beer aficionado from Dallas, Texas. He has over five years of experience in homebrewing and over 10 years of bartending experience. In his spare time, he enjoys creating his own recipes for his friends and family to enjoy. His passion for brewing stems back four generations to his family's deep roots in the brewing industry. This is his first piece for The Hop Review.