This time we are going to discover the different flavors that malted barley brings to beer and ale. To begin with, it is helpful to understand the reason for "malting" barley.
First of all, the barley grain is not particularly suited to the baking of bread as it has far less gluten in it than its friend wheat. However, if it is allowed to germinate, and then dried, the starches that are created in the germination process, helped along by enzymes that are already in the grain, are ideal for creating the sweet liquid that is the first step in modern brewing. At the beginning of the brewing process. the mixtures of malts are crushed together to create “Grist” which becomes a “Mash” when the selection of different types of malted barley are ground up and added to hot water. This allows the starches that I mentioned before, to come in contact with the enzymes, I also mention before, to create a sugary porridge. The liquid that is drained from this sugary portage is called "Wort".
As I noted before, the germinated barley is dried at the end of the process called malting. The flavor of this grain resembles an unroasted nut like character on top of the fairly full mouth feel that the starch brings to the table. This is the basic flavor of malted barley. This malted barley is then roasted at different temperatures to create different flavors that the brewer can use in creating beer and ale. The industry uses what is called a "standard reference method" scale ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Reference_Method ) I prefer the unscientific terms of "lightly roasted.", "richly roasted.", "fully roasted", "black malt". (There is of course a great deal of difference in flavors between the first and last mentioned malt.) The amount of roasting creates the flavors that range from slightly sweet, to an almost tannic dryness. Some of the favorite words used to describe these flavors are: nutty, grainy, toasted, roasted, woody, caramel, sugar candy, molasses, treacle, brown sugar, and one of my favorites "burn sugar cane". The brewers have names for the malts in the degree to which they are roasted. A full listing of these, as far as I've gotten, can be found at my website.
To begin to fully experience the full flavor influence that malted barley has on beer, it is important to actually taste some malted barley. I suggest contacting either a homebrew supply shop, or natural/health foods store. The homebrew supply shop should be able to supply you with a range of flavors, and the natural/health foods store should be able to supply you with the essential flavor. As I mentioned in a previous blog many commercial breakfast cereals also include a high percentage of malt grains in their products as well. Consult the fine print on your breakfast cereal to determine just how much malted grain is in your product.
After that first refreshing sensation of cold liquid satisfies your thirst and expectations, the first sweet notes of the malted barley should come through. In this brief moment you have the chance to cross-indexed and categorize any remembrance of sweet that you have ever had. A quick review of these sensations can give you the vocabulary starting points for the description of this beer or ale. As I've mentioned before, it's helpful not to think of this as a beer or and ale, rather to think of it as a refreshing carbonated beverage. This way you do not approach the tasting with a great deal of preconceived notions. Two things will give you a greater appreciation of the malts used in the beer or ale that you are tasting.
The first thing to remember is the temperature has a great effect on how you taste any type of flavor. The colder something as the less flavors, you will taste. The warmer something is the greater the chance of flavors to develop. I offer the following example: I will admit that almost any mass-produced yellow beer is very refreshing when it is ice cold, a sip of that same beverage after it is reached room temperature is almost intolerable. I suggest you try the experiment yourself. The second thing to remember, or should I say be reminded of, is that most taste is actually the reaction to aroma. By exercising your old factory capabilities to their maximum between the lip and sip allows you to fully appreciate the influence that the malts use have on that particular beverage.
It is also important to keep in mind that the impression that the hops bring to the table soon follow on the impressions that you get from the malts. Their rush to the altar to wed, and they're hopefully happy marriage, will give you plenty of time at the ends to appreciate the influence of the hops.
But that is for another blog...