The next time you take a sip of beer, ponder the process of the extraordinary journey it takes from seed to suds. The whole process is a series of procedures targeted to one end product, beer. It is indeed a long and tedious process, and Team Beer knows this first hand.
One vital segment in making beer is a stage called malting. This involves converting the grain used for your beer, be it barley or wheat, from a starch storage unit (a seed) to a slightly sweet, crunchy grain that can be further converted, through a series of events, into a fermentable sugary solution called wort (pronounced "wert").
To malt the grain, you need to soak the seed in 8-hour intervals until it starts to swell, a sign that it is about to germinate. You cannot soak the seed longer than 8 hours at a time. To do so would deprive it of oxygen and literally drown it. You may have to do the soaking a few times in order to achieve the swelling.
Once the seed starts to swell, place it on a large cookie sheet that has been layered with paper towels. This will help retain moisture that will be instrumental in keeping humidity while the seeds germinate.
Now enclose the cookie sheet in a large, dark garbage bag and tie the end. At room temperature, it will take 4 to 7 days for barley seed to push out a shoot. Wheat seed usually takes about 3 days.
Don’t confuse the root hairs for the shoot. The stem shoot will be quite a bit larger in size. When the shoot becomes ½ to ¾ the length of the seed, it’s time to stop the germination. This process converts the starchy seed to a fully modified barley malt that can be mashed for complete conversion to a fermentable product.
The next step is to take the germinated seed out of the enclosed bag, remove the paper towels, and put the grains, on the cookie sheet, in an oven at a temperature between 100 to 125 degrees. I should mention that the germinated root hairs sometimes grow into the paper towel, so you may have a fun time pulling them free. One of our ovens had a 125-degree temperature from only the pilot light, which was perfect. We kept the grain in the oven for 24 hours.
Try to move the grain around on the cookie sheet every ½ hour for the first 4 to 6 hours to help dry the seed in a uniform manner. After 24 hours, your seed should be dry enough to use for your mash. One way to tell if you were successful is to bite on a piece of grain. If it breaks a tooth, you failed. If it is crunchy and slightly sweet, you’re on your way to making a true home brew.
You should separate the fine dried root material from the grain before you mash to help the clarity of the beer. A lot of this may sound fuzzy, but once you’ve done the process, it will make sense.
By Rick LaFrentz, Beerless leader