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What is “Malted” Barley?

We all use malted barley to make beer. It is the staple ingredient. What does “malted” mean, and why does barley have to be malted for brewing beer?

What is Malted Barley?

Malted barley is essentially barley which is sprouted and ready to grow into a plant. The maltster takes the grains of barley and soaks them. They are then laid out and brought to a set temperature in an aerated room where they are encouraged to grow. The barley is rotated regularly to encourage sprouting without setting down roots and to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.

The barley sprouts, and over the course of several days a small leaf called an acrospire grows within the grain (you actually have to split a grain open to see it). When the acrospire has grown to between 80% and 100% of the length of the grain the process is considered done (to the point that brewers would like).

Once the sprouting is complete the barley is dried at a constant temperature around 120 degrees F. This stops the growing process and traps the starches in the barley in a state that is ideal for brewing beer. The leafy stems that grow out of the barley during malting are removed from the grains, and they are ready for use. The barley is often roasted at this point to give malt different flavors that are used to changed the characteristics of beer.

Why is Barley Malted for Brewing Beer?

The starches and sugars that we need ┬áduring the brewing process are locked up in a “matrix” in unmalted barley. The malting process unlocks these starches and sugars, and creates enzymes needed to break them down into the sugars that are eventually used by yeast to ferment the beer.

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