Malting A-Z

Hillrock Estate Distillery (Ancram, NY) floor malting.

Woe to the maltster, brewer, or distiller who simply treats malt as a commodity ingredient.

Dave Thomas, in his new book, The Craft Maltsters’ Handbook, boldly asserts that malt is the “backbone, workhorse, magic, soul and romance of beer, distilled spirits, and foods.” As a base ingredient, malt, along with malting and the maltster (product, process and artisan) all factor into the end product. Brewers, distillers, and bakers too, are taking their malted barley more seriously. Distillers and brewers concerned about the quality, characteristics and terrior of their ingredients are turning to small micro-maltsters to create an original malt for their product.

As a society we have a long history of malting. In fact malting, like fermenting, is part and parcel of our civilization. Making cereal grains palatable may have been the first act of civilization. It required cultivation of the land, leaving the nomadic life, and discovering the techniques of germination and fermentation.

More recently, in the 19th century malt houses began as attachments to breweries and distilleries to ensure their own malt supply. Up until 2010 malting was in the province of a handful of multinational corporations. But, recent interest in craft malting has taken off in the U.S., growing to more than 40 in 2014. And that number is growing still.

Floor maltsters and their tools (Stephens, 1993), from left to right: turning fork, turning shovel, skip, bushel measure and strickle, tin shovel, and turning fork.

The Craft Maltsters’ Handbook is a guide to understanding malt in the malthouse, brewery and/or distillery. By way of a glossary of terms, the reader can learn about the science and technique of malting along with its history and culture. The handbook can be picked up and read as a whole or referred to for particular information. In either case, it’s guaranteed to provide an extensive study of the malting process.

Said best by Thomas in his introduction—”After decades of ‘hop happiness’ in the U.S. craft beer industry, craft malt is fast becoming the essential, enigmatic ingredient that fills craft beer, craft foods, and craft spirits with color, flavor, strength, personality, and “terroir…”

Nuff said.

Links of Interest
The Stanley’s, New York State Maltsters
Micro-Malting in Northern Colorado
Video by GrowNYC about the local grain renaissance in the Northeast