There are four main components of beer: water, malt, hops and yeast. This article is the second of a four part series that will be covered in that order.
Malt is very important to the finished product, and the types of malt you use will determine quite a few of your brew's characteristics. One of the most important jobs performed by malt is determining the color of your beer (though there is far more to it than just working as a dye). Just how important is it that you use a good malt? What does malt do in beer? Let's take a closer look at the role of malt and why it should matter to you.
First, malt is made from grain, usually barley. However, there are several other types of grains that can be used, as well, such as wheat and rye, oats and rice. The process of malting grains is pretty simple – it involves soaking the grains in water and then allowing them to start germinating. Once they begin germinating, the grains are dried (usually in a kiln). This process converts the starch in the grains into sugars that can be used by yeast – plain starch won't do the trick.
The drying process (or roasting) is what is responsible for the color of the beer, rather than the type of malt used. For instance, longer roasting times result in darker colors. Stouts and porters require the grain to be roasted far longer than an IPA, for example. The same grain can be used to achieve any number of different colors in the finished beer – the key is the roasting time. The darker the grain, the darker the beer will be.
As mentioned, barley is one of the most commonly used types of grains. The reason for this is because the husk of the grain provides some advantages in the brewing process. In addition to providing benefits during sparging, it also helps convert starch into sugar by releasing amylase (a digestive enzyme). Barley has a very high diastatic power (enzyme content) and, thus, is an ideal grain for malting. As a note, gluten-free beers do not use grains that contain gluten (that includes barley, wheat and rye).
You'll also find that there are two primary categories for finished malts: base malts and specialty malts. Base malts have enough enzyme content (diastatic power) to convert their own starch into sugars. Specialty malts do not, and are used to help add different color to beer, or help provide more body to the finished product.
As you can see, the type, roasting time and diastatic power of different malts are very important to the creating your ideal beer.
In our next article we will cover the importance of hops and it contribution to beer.